Turkey hits Syrian govt targets after five soldiers killed

Turkey recently sent forces to northwest Syria in response to advances by Syrian government forces. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 February 2020

Turkey hits Syrian govt targets after five soldiers killed

  • Turkish forces were retaliating after the strike on Taftanaz, where Turkey recently sent forces in response to advances by Syrian government forces
  • Russian air strikes killed at least five civilians in the last major opposition bastion in northwestern Syria

ANKARA: A direct confrontation between Turkish forces and the Assad regime drew closer on Monday when five Turkish soldiers were killed in a regime attack in northwest Syria.

The assault on a newly established Turkish military base in Taftanaz in Idlib province came a week after eight Turkish troops were killed by regime bombardment.

The rapid offensive by regime forces in Idlib has driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes toward the Turkish border. Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it can take no more and is ready for military action to halt the regime advance.
“The Assad regime’s attacks against our posts have made an operation necessary,” said Omer Celik, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party, the AKP.

Turkey has poured 5,000 troops across the border with convoys of at least 1,000 tactical vehicles equipped with aerial defense and fire capabilities. However, it has no good options, said Aaron Stein, Middle East program director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The rapid offensive by regime forces in Idlib has driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes toward the Turkish border.

•Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it can take no more and is ready for military action to halt the regime advance.

“Ankara can basically choose to annex the territory it governs in Syria and defend it, or surrender as part of a dialogue with Moscow,” he told Arab News.

“It isn’t going to march to Damascus, even a new defensive line it establishes in consultations with Russia won’t ease the pressure to agree to some mechanism that Russia can live with to end the war.”

Turkey could take further military action in Idlib but at the risk of ending its accord with Moscow, Stein said. “It is a losing bet.”

Navvar Saban, a military expert from the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said he expected further bloodshed in Idlib.

“There is no going back. I’m very concerned for the safety of the civilians in the region,” he told Arab News.

Saban said only contacts between Russian and Turkish delegations or their presidents may come up with a positive plan.

As the conflict escalated in Idlib, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara for talks. The two countries back opposing sides in Syria. “This is a war of attrition between Moscow and Ankara in which they are testing limits,” said Galip Dalay, a visiting scholar at Oxford University.

Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said the Russia-Turkey talks were preparatory ones and they did not intend to reach a deal.  

“Turkey won’t risk a direct clash with Russia,” he said. “Moscow is in control of the sky over Idlib, which makes it doubtful that Turkey will use its airpower. An escalation will only increase the flow of refugees, which is exactly what Turkey wants to avoid.”

 


Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

Updated 50 min 39 sec ago

Pressure for Turkey lockdown grows, Erdogan vows to sustain economy

  • Turkey has stopped all international flights and limited domestic travel
  • Authorities still haven’t ordered people to stay home
ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan is under growing pressure from unions and the opposition for a lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, but insists that Turkey should “keep wheels turning” in the economy and that people continue going to work.
Ankara has stopped all international flights, limited domestic travel, closed schools, bars and cafes, suspended mass prayers and sports fixtures to counter the outbreak.
The authorities have not, however, ordered people to stay at home, even as the number of cases in Turkey has risen sharply. On Monday these reached 10,827, less than three weeks since Turkey registered its first case. The death toll jumped to 168, drawing fresh calls for tighter measures.
With Turkey emerging from a recession triggered by a 2018 currency crisis, Erdogan aims to avoid endangering the recovery by enforcing a stay-at-home order that would halt economic activity and has called instead for voluntary self-isolation.
Two leading union confederations called for a halt to all but emergency work and for measures to be implemented to support workers. “All work should be stopped for a minimum of 15 days except for the production of essential and emergency goods and services,” TURK-IS Chairman Ergun Atalay said in a statement.
He also called for a ban on layoffs for the duration of the pandemic and said income support should be provided to all workers who are experiencing loss of work and income. The DISK union confederation issued an identical statement.
The Turkish Medical Association said on Monday there were many mistakes in Ankara’s “inadequate” response to the pandemic, saying borders had been left open too long and that quarantine had not been imposed on most Turks returning from abroad.
“At this stage, the disease has spread to every part of the country, hence the opportunity to enforce a quarantine has gone,” it said in a statement.
It said that more than 30,000 tests needed to be carried out daily and that those testing positive needed to be properly isolated.
But after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said it was necessary to maintain output to sustain the supply of basic goods and support exports.
“Turkey is a country that needs to continue production and keep the wheels turning under all conditions and circumstances.”
The main opposition CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said measures imposed on senior citizens and the chronically ill should be extended to a nationwide “quarantine.”
“Inadequate” response
The CHP’s Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, underlined the importance of a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, with a population of 16 million people — nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population.
“If 15% of the city’s population goes out that is 2.5 million people. As the weather gets better people will go out,” Imamoglu told Fox TV in an interview on Monday. “Even if they don’t do it for Turkey, a lockdown can be announced for Istanbul.”
On Monday, Erdogan also launched a campaign to collect donations from citizens for those in need, saying he was donating seven months of his salary to the cause and that the effort had already drawn $11 million.