Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened “heavier” strikes on Syria than in the past after accusing Damascus of violating the recently-negotiated ceasefire.
Speaking to lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday, the Turkish president claimed that small violations of the ceasefire had begun in Idlib and that his goal was to ensure the safety of 12 Turkish observation posts in the area.
Today’s comments echo Erdogan’s pledge over the weekend to unilaterally crack down on those deemed to have violated the deal.
Last week, Russia brokered a ceasefire between Syria and Turkey, which wrapped up weeks of fighting in Idlib.
Nine years after a brutal war broke out in Syria, Idlib, in the northwest of the country, remains the last major province held by militants opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s government (barring smaller pockets held by armed groups who are backed by Israel, Turkey and the United States).
The major forces in control of Idlib are Hayat Tahrir al-Sham*, its offshoot Hurras al-Din, the Turkish-backed rebel coalition National Liberation Front, and the largely-Uyghur Turkistan Islamic Party.
Syrian forces have been trying to recapture the restive province since mid-December. The Turkish military, which operates 12 observation posts in Idlib to monitor a fragile 2018 de-escalation agreement, intervened in early February to push back the Syrian troops.
Turkey and Syria have since exchanged artillery fire that caused dozens of casualties on both sides. The new ceasefire, in effect since 5 March, established a 6-km secure corridor along the crucial M5 highway, that connects Latakia and Aleppo, and calls for joint Turkish–Russian patrols along the highway starting 15 March. Turkey also committed to withdraw heavy weapons from its observation posts in Idlib.
The Russian military reported on Tuesday that the ceasefire led to a decrease in shelling in Idlib, although projectiles had been fired from positions belonging to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Turkestan Islamic Party. Earlier in the day, al-Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said that Syria had registered several of Turkey’s recent violations of the Idlib ceasefire.
*A jihadist alliance previously affiliated with al-Qaeda and designated a terrorist organisation in Russia.