A report published Thursday suggests Turkey is moving reinforcements into Syria’s Idlib province as it tries to forestall a major offensive by dictator Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
Turkey is bracing for what Turkish, American, European, and United Nations officials agree will be a “humanitarian tragedy” if the assault on thousands of insurgent fighters mixed with millions of civilians proceeds.
The Associated Press on Thursday cited a report from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said its people in Syria have recorded video of Turkish armored fighting vehicles and battle tanks moving across the border and heading for two key locations in Idlib.
“We have a military presence there and if that military presence is damaged or attacked in any way, it would be considered an attack on Turkey and would, therefore, receive the necessary retaliation,” said a senior Turkish security source, effectively setting up Turkish observation posts in Idlib as a tripwire Assad and his allies dare not cross.
Senior rebel officials told Reuters on Wednesday that Turkey is also stepping up arms shipments to their fighters, including “large quantities” of ammunition and rockets.
“These arms supplies and munitions will allow the battle to extend and ensure our supplies are not drained in a war of attrition,” one rebel commander said.
The Turks do not dispute Syria’s contention that outright terrorists are mixed in with other rebel forces in Idlib, notably including factions loyal to al-Qaeda, but they stress the importance of a ceasefire to give other forces in the region a chance to weed out the terrorists with minimal loss of civilian life. Turkey has also warned the expected wave of refugees triggered by a massive invasion of Idlib would sweep terrorists into Turkey, and eventually Europe.
Turkey simultaneously continued its political pressure to fend off the Idlib invasion.
“We are working with Russia, Iran, and other allies to bring peace and stability and to stop a humanitarian tragedy,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told a meeting of foreign ambassadors on Wednesday.
U.S. officials backed Turkey’s play by warning Russia it will be held responsible for a humanitarian crisis in Idlib and insisting Russian warships in the Mediterranean must “operate safely and abide by international law.”
Turkey’s Daily Sabah was very happy to see American and European officials supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s position on Idlib, quoting British U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce informing the Security Council on Tuesday that her government “strongly agrees” with his warning of impending disaster.