DAMASCUS – Turkey has threatened to launch an “imminent” operation in Syria’s Idlib Province if Damascus fails to withdraw behind Ankara’s military positions, sparking a warning from Russia.
“Like our previous operations, we say our operation may happen suddenly one night,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, referring to three cross-border incursions his country has so far waged in northern Syria.
Speaking at a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s parliamentary group in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan stressed that Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone “no matter the cost.”
He also noted that several rounds of talks between Ankara and Moscow on the situation in Idlib had failed to reach “desired results.”
“The talks will continue, but it is true that we are far from meeting our demands at the table,” Erdogan said. “Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”
“An operation in Idlib is imminent. We are counting down, we are making our final warnings,” he added.
The Turkish president has previously said his country may use military force to drive back Syrian forces unless they pull back by the end of February.
Reacting to Erdogan’s threat, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued a warning.
“If we are talking about an operation against the legitimate authorities of the Syrian republic and armed forces of the Syrian republic, this would of course be the worst scenario,” he told reporters.
However, Peskov added that Moscow would not object if Ankara acted against “terrorist groups in Idlib” in accordance with existing agreements, saying, “Contacts with Turkey are continuing.”
Idlib and small parts of the adjacent area in Aleppo form the only large territory in the hands of terrorists after the Syrian military managed to undo militant gains across the country and bring back almost all of Syrian soil under government control.
The Syrian army has been making steady advances in the past few weeks, liberating a strategic city and a key highway which connects Damascus to Aleppo, among other gains.
Syria began the offensive in December to drive out the terrorists from Idlib and neighboring areas after its troops and those of Russia came under increasing attacks.
The Syrian gains, however, have coincided with a massive deployment of troops and military equipment by Turkey, which is evidently upset by changing conditions on the ground.
Turkish troops are deployed in terrorist-held areas in Idlib under a deal reached with Russia in 2012.
The deal called for the establishment of a de-militarized zone which required Turkey to oust Takfiri terrorists from the Syrian province. But, more than a year into the agreement, Takfiri terrorists rule supreme in Idlib in quite close proximity to Turkish troops.
Syria’s Aleppo airport resumes flights after 8 years
In another development on Wednesday, a Syrian Air flight landed at Aleppo airport after a 40-minute flight from Damascus, marking the resumption of flights between the country’s two largest cities for the first time since 2012.
In a statement to journalists on board the plane, Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammoud said, “Putting Aleppo International Airport into service again, and the return of the internal flight, and later the external flights is a significant victory which has been achieved thanks to the scarifies of the heroic Syrian Army and the steadfastness of the Syrian people who stand by their army to liberate Aleppo and the rest of the Syrian Arab territories.”
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