ISTANBUL: Turkey will change tack in northwestern Syria if agreements over Idlib, a rebel bastion, continue to be violated, the country’s defense minister warned in remarks published on Sunday.
Turkey and Russia have brokered a cease-fire for Idlib where Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes have pressed ahead with an offensive to retake the province from rebel groups.
“If the agreement kept being violated, we have Plan B and Plan C,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said, in an interview with the Hurriyet daily.
“We on every occasion say ‘do not force us, otherwise our Plan B and Plan C are ready’.”
He did not give details, but referred to Ankara’s military campaigns in Syria since 2016.
As part of a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkey set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and Turkish security sources said this week three of them have now been encircled by forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar Assad.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given Damascus until the end of the month to pull back from the outposts and urged Russia to convince the regime to halt its offensive.
Eight Turks were killed on Monday by regime shelling prompting a response by the Turkish army.
Since Friday, Turkey has shipped large convoys of vehicles carrying commandos, tanks and howitzers to shore up its military posts in Idlib.
“Our observation posts there will remain in place within the agreement,” Akar said. Turkey keeps on shipping supplies to its outposts in coordination with Russian authorities, he added.
“Despite this, if there is any obstacle, we put it clearly that we will do what’s necessary.”
Idlib has long been a destination for civilians and rebel fighters who were either displaced or fled the regime’s offensive elsewhere in Syria. Ankara backs rebels seeking Assad’s ouster.
A Russian delegation on Saturday met with Turkish officials for two rounds of talks in Ankara to discuss steps toward peace and push ahead with a political process in Idlib, according to a Turkish diplomatic source. Ankara and Moscow have worked closely in recent years to resolve the situation in Idlib despite being on opposing sides of the conflict.
“Our primary goal is to prevent migration and humanitarian tragedy. We are working to establish a cease-fire as soon as possible and stop the bloodshed,” Akar said.