Battle rages over strategic Syrian town of Saraqeb as humanitarian catastrophe unfolds

28 Février, 2020, 03:42 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
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Earlier on Thursday, a local Turkish governor said an attack on Turkish military in Idlib killed nine soldiers, although the figure was later revised upwards to 22. The Turkish and Russian heads of state had at least two recent telephone conversations regarding Idlib-the last on February 21-with no success.

Turkey responded with a number of retaliatory strikes, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday that some 150 Syrian soldiers have been killed.

Mr Cavusoglu spoke to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on the phone, a Turkish diplomatic source said early Friday without giving further details.

In anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Idlib, Turkish police, coast guard and border security officials have been ordered to stand down on refugees' land and sea crossings, the Turkish official told Reuters.

The Syrian government troops' "deliberate attacks on our forces has been a turning point".

Turkey and Russian Federation back rival groups in the Syrian conflict and over the past weeks Ankara sent thousands of Turkish troops to Idlib.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russian Federation agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Syrian insurgents backed by the Turkish military seized the town of Nairab in Idlib this week, according to rebel and Turkish sources, the first area to be taken back from advancing Syrian government forces.

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Syrian state media reported intense clashes near Saraqeb, saying insurgents sent suicide auto bombs and that Turkish forces bombarded the area. Should the rebels fail there could be a direct Turkish offensive as thousands of fresh Turkish troops have recently entered the area.

In the meantime, Turkey's defense chief Hulusi Akar said the third round of Idlib talks between Turkish and Russian delegations has "reached a certain point". When the government forces first took Saraqeb earlier this month, it marked their capture of the last major rebel-held town along the highway.

A senior opposition figure in touch with Turkey's military said the Turkish-backed campaign would continue until the Syrian army was expelled from the buffer zone, and only then would serious negotiations begin over a settlement.

Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back and the spokesman of his AK Party, Omer Celik, said on Thursday preparations were complete.

As well as sending troops, tanks and artillery into the region across its border, Ankara has set up new outposts in what rebels say is preparation for a Turkish operation.

The Observatory reported that Syrian government warplanes struck a Turkish military post in the Jabal al-Zawiya region on Thursday, killing three soldiers and wounding others.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, New York, contributed reporting.

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