Regime forces surround Turkish post in Syria
Syrian government forces on Friday surrounded a Turkish observation post in the northwest after overrunning nearby areas, a war monitor said, while Ankara vowed not to withdraw from its position.
“Regime forces have surrounded the Turkish observation post in Morek after capturing other towns and villages in this pocket,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Speaking at a news conference in the Lebanese capital, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu said that “our observation point there is not cut-off and nobody can isolate our forces and our soldiers.”
“We are there, not because we can’t leave, but because we don’t want to leave,” he said, adding that the issue was being discussed with Damascus’ allies Russia and Iran.
The Syrian regime has upped the stakes with Ankara in its months-long Russian-backed offensive against the militant-ruled Idlib region, which borders Turkey.
Moscow on Friday said that it had agreed with Ankara to “activate mutual efforts” to ease the situation in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.
Turkey later announced that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting confirmed by the Kremlin.
The town of Morek, where the Turkish troops have allegedly been cut off, lies in the north of Hama Province, part of the region centered on neighboring Idlib Province that has been under government assault — initially by air — since the end of April.
Government forces on Friday took control of Morek and nearby towns, including Kafr Zita, the Syrian Arab News Agency said.
Militants and allied rebels withdrew from the area ahead of the Syrian army’s entry into the strategic town of Khan Sheikhun on Wednesday and government forces took control without resistance, the Britain-based Observatory said.
The Morek observation post, established under a deal with Moscow, is one of 12 that the Turkish army set up along the front line — between Syrian government forces on one side and the militants and Ankara’s rebel allies on the other side — last year.
Cavusoglu on Tuesday vowed that the Turkish army “will do whatever is necessary” to defend these positions.
Erdogan has also said that Turkey would not abandon any of its observation posts in Syria.
The Turkish troops’ mission was to oversee the establishment of a buffer zone agreed on by Ankara and Moscow in September.
However, the militants failed to pull back from the zone as agreed and in April, government and Russian forces resumed an intense bombardment of the region.
The Kremlin on Friday said that Putin and Erdogan had agreed to “activate mutual efforts” to ease the situation in the Idlib region.
“They discussed the issues of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the context of stabilization of the de-escalation zone,” a statement said.
Next month, Erdogan is to host Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a summit in Ankara to discuss the latest developments.
Erdogan on Friday said that regime attacks in Idlib have led to a “grave humanitarian crisis.”
“These attacks damage the efforts to regulate the Syrian conflict,” he added.