On February 3rd, Turkey received news of 8 martyrs in bordering Syrian region, Idlib. According to the Turkish Ministry of National Defence, 7 military personnel and one civilian were killed, and 13 were wounded under Syrian fire. According to BBC Turkey, the Syrian army attacked a convoy of the reinforcement troops that were sent overnight from February 2 to 3, into Idlib. While the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria claimed that Turkey did not notify Russia of their mission to warn Syrian forces, Turkish officials claimed the opposite. This attack has seemed to shake Turkish and Russian relations and raised concerns regarding the Russo-Turkish de-escalation agreement within the region.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who was in Ukraine at the time, vowed a “tough retaliation” against any attack on the Turkish army. According to TASS, he expressed hope that sides “will stick to obligations under the Astana and Sochi agreements”. Erdogan was not the only official concerned with the violation of Sochi agreements. Omer Celik, a spokesperson of AK Party, accused the Syrian regime of “acting like a terrorist organization while Turkish Armed Forces in the region are working to prevent conflict”. As per al-Monitor, Moscow stated that Turkey was unable to fulfil its role in separating jihadists in the region from moderated opposition groups. Therefore, the Syrian attack did not violate principles of the 2018 Sochi memorandum. While Russia stuck by its ally Syria, according to Anadolu Agency, the U.S. sent their condolences to Turkey and offered support for future Turkish self-defence actions.
Turkey has suffered from loss of their soldiers in both Syria and Iraq. The situation does not seem likely to improve, considering the harsh reactions of the political heads of Turkey. Many criticize Turkish interference in Idlib, by pointing out that Turkey has its own problems to deal with. Some believe that it is Turkey’s “duty” to support fellow Muslims and that it has a right to be involved as Idlib is close to the Turkish border. Others feel that as Bashar al-Assad is trying to reunify Syria while fighting against jihadists alongside Russia, Turkey should ally itself with Russia to fight terrorism in the region. However, the potential new wave of refugees coming to Turkey from Idlib as a result of the attacks should be supported by way of foreign aid to Turkey. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Turkey has already accepted over 3.5 million Syrian refugees and now Turkish state and people cannot accommodate more, considering the economic instability and unemployment.
According to Reuters, Idlib is home to three million people and is currently controlled by rebels, anti-Assad civilian activists, and Islamist groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al-Qaeda’s former affiliate. It is also the entrance of many foreign fighters crossing from Turkey to join the Islamic State. Assad wants to re-unify Syria and now Idlib is the last region to capture for him to acquire his goal. But this goal concerns the United Nations for its potential to be a humanitarian catastrophe.
Turkey tried to keep Idlib a de-escalation zone through the Sochi agreement with Russia, due to their concerns of a new refugee wave coming in as well as the possibility of jihadists crossing the border to Turkey. But Syria decided that Turkey was failing in their fight against terrorism in the region, so they decided to take the matter into their own hands with Turkish reinforcement troops being their first victim. The Syrian attack in the region continues to risk Turkish security and lives of many Idlib residents.
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