World

Turkey destroys scores of Syrian army targets

March 01, 2020
Members of the ‘Syrian National Army’, an alliance of Turkey-backed rebel groups, followed by a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft gun ride in the town of Sarmin, about 8 km southeast of the city of Idlib, Syria. — Courtesy photo
Members of the ‘Syrian National Army’, an alliance of Turkey-backed rebel groups, followed by a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft gun ride in the town of Sarmin, about 8 km southeast of the city of Idlib, Syria. — Courtesy photo

ISTANBUL/BEIRUT — Turkey said on Sunday it had destroyed air defense systems, more than 100 tanks and downed two planes belonging to the Syrian army as part of an operation it launched after an airstrike killed dozens of its soldiers last week.

Tensions in northwest Syria have escalated sharply as fighting between Turkey-backed rebels and Russian-backed Syrian government forces risks bringing the two regional powers into direct confrontation.

Diplomatic efforts by Ankara and Moscow to defuse tensions have so far fallen short of achieving a ceasefire in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, the country’s last major rebel stronghold after nine years of civil war.

Ankara has ramped up its attacks, including drone strikes, against the Syrian army since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike by Damascus. Another soldier was killed on Friday, bringing February’s death toll to 55.

Syria’s army warned on Sunday it would take down any planes or drones breaching the air space over the northwest, which has been controlled for years by its ally Moscow.

“We have neither the intention nor the notion to face Russia. Our only intention there is for the (Syrian) regime to end the massacre and thereby prevent, stop radicalization and migration,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

He dubbed the operation, Turkey’s fourth in Syria, “Spring Shield”.

Akar said Turkey had destroyed a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, 72 Howitzers, rocket launchers, and six air defense systems among other military equipment since Feb. 27.

The regime offensive against jihadist-dominated Idlib has caused almost a million people — mostly women and children — to flee their homes and shelters, the United Nations says.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that while there was progress in talks between Turkish and Russian delegations, the Idlib issue would only be resolved between presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin.

One senior Turkish official and one security official said the meeting would be held on Thursday in Moscow.

The officials said the two would discuss steps to take in Idlib and that they were expected to reach a mutual agreement.

The latest bout of fighting in Idlib has uprooted one million civilians since December, many of them women and children fleeing toward the Turkish border.Turkey, which hosts 3.7 million Syrians, said it would allow migrants to cross into Europe in anticipation of an imminent new migrant influx from Idlib, lifting restraints on movement in place since 2016 under a deal with the European Union. — Agencies


March 01, 2020
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