Turkey might speed up military intervention in Syria’s Idlib - Sabah newspaper

Turkey might launch a military intervention in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib earlier than a deadline previously set by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Sabah newspaper said on Saturday, citing a closed press briefing organised by the Turkish Ministry of Defence.

Erdoğan said this week that Turkey would take the matters into its own hands, if the Syrian government forces in Idlib did not withdraw until the end of February from positions beyond Turkey’s observation posts, built after Turkey and Russia agreed in 2018 to establish a demilitarised zone in the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria.

“But the latest outlook indicates that the intervention might be brought forward,” Sabah said, adding that both Turkish and Syrian troops in Idlib remained on alert.

Despite Erdoğan’s warnings, forces of the Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday seized the control of a key town in Idlib, where Turkey was building new observation posts.

“While the Turkish military elements have been blocking the way to Idlib (city) by placing concrete barriers to M5 highway, an imminent direct clash between the (Syrian) regime and the Turkish Armed Forces is seen likely,” Sabah said. 

The newspaper said officials in the Defence Ministry told reporters that the Turkish military was ready to act upon the instructions of the government, when asked what would happen if diplomatic efforts for Idlib failed. 

A Russian delegation is expected to arrive in Turkey on Saturday for talks to deescalate the situation in Idlib, where seven Turkish soldiers and one Turkish contractor was killed by Syrian government shelling on Monday. 

The Russian delegation is expected to propose to Turkey a new version of the 2018 Sochi agreement, which stipulates a ceasefire between the Syrian government and opposition factions in Idlib, Asharq Al-Awsat said

Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million Syrians, is wary of a new massive refugee influx from Idlib, which is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in Syria.

Erdoğan said this week that one million Syrians had already fled to areas near the Turkish border, escaping the clashes between rebel groups and Syrian forces. 

The Russia-backed Syrian government launched an attack on Idlib in April, saying the Sochi deal failed to curb the presence of jihadi fighters in the last rebel-held enclave.