Assad jets threaten Turkish troops despite deal to curb Idlib fighting

Assad jets threaten Turkish troops despite deal to curb Idlib fighting

ANKARA: Assad regime airstrikes pounded militant positions in northwest Syria on Wednesday a few meters from a Turkish military post.

The new strikes came less than 24 hours after Russian and Turkish presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached an accord during talks in Moscow to “normalize” the situation in Idlib.

There were fierce clashes on Wednesday between Assad regime forces and militant fighters 500 meters from the Turkish post in Sher Maghar village. “The conflict is taking place very close by and it is violent,” a Turkish military source said.

Clouds of smoke billowed in the air as regime airstrikes hit targets around the village, and one strike was so close to the Turkish observation post that it damaged the walls.

The airstrikes and fighting so near Turkish forces illustrated the fragility of Turkey’s presence in northwest Syria, analysts told Arab News. “The hit was unlikely to be a mistake, as some pro-Russian media have claimed,” Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, told Arab News.

“It reflects the continuing dispute between Russia and Turkey and the failure to reach a final agreement on the general situation in Idlib.”

To avoid being dragged into a direct confrontation, Ankara and Moscow may now “send messages” to each other through their proxies in the region, Saban said. “In the absence of a final agreement between Russia and Turkey, it is very likely that both countries will put more effort into strengthening their local agents.”

Military ties between Moscow and Ankara have deepened since Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, against the wishes of the US and Turkey’s other NATO allies. Washington responded by removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program, and Erdogan was observed at a Moscow air show on Tuesday gazing approvingly at Russia’s new Su-57 stealth fighter.

However, they support opposite sides in the Syrian conflict. Russian-backed Assad regime jets carried out at least 15 airstrikes in the region on Wednesday, targeting Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and the Turkish-backed National Liberation Army.

Turkey has 12 military observation posts in northwest Syria, many of them at risk from Assad regime attacks. The post at Morek in southern Idlib is effectively under siege and is being protected by Russian military police.

The Assad regime welcomed Russian forces but has demanded that Turkey withdraw its troops because their presence violates Syria’s territorial sovereignty.

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