The situation in northern Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s army, with support from the Russian Aerospace Forces, is fighting for control over Idlib, deteriorated sharply on Thursday.
The Turkish army, which entered Idlib at the end of last year, was targeted in an air raid, which killed at least 22 soldiers, the Daily Sabah reports, citing the authorities of the Turkish border province of Hatay.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan convened an urgent session of the National Security Council, inviting all ministers and high-ranking officials, including Head of National Intelligence Hakan Fidan, after Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made contact with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin spoke to US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
The air raid targeted Turkey’s Al-Bara base in southern Idlib, one of the 12 observation points established by Ankara one year ago as part of a de-escalation agreement with Russia. The New York Times reported with reference to Turkish officials that Ankara considers the Syrian Air Force responsible for the incident, even though it was Russian planes that were used to bomb the region.
A correspondent of Al-Monitor in Washington said that the recent attack, which caused the Turkish army its most severe losses since the start of “Operation Peace Spring”, was carried out by the Russian Aerospace Forces. Several sources in Idlib confirmed this to The Guardian.
In response, Turkey decided to attack “all known” targets belonging to the Syrian regime, both in the air and on the ground, Reuters reports, citing two officials. The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that the Israeli Air Force also attacked the Syrian army with missiles from the Golan Heights, injuring three soldiers in Al-Qahtaniyah, Al-Huriyah and the Al-Quneitra administrative center.
In addition, Turkey has stopped holding back the influx of refugees who are pouring into Turkey to escape the bombing, a high-ranking official told Reuters. Assad’s army’s new offensive has forced nearly half a million people to abandon their homes and head for Turkey, which is already accommodating 3.5 million Syrians. The Turkish police, coast guard and border services have been ordered to start letting the new refugees in.
The Financial Times wrote that Turkey may request military assistance from NATO.
“I hope President Erdogan realizes who has been and remains his real ally. They are seeing what Russia really is and what they are doing now,” said US Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison in a press conference.
The negotiations between Erdogan and Putin, lobbied for by France and Germany and provisionally slated for March 5, will not take place, said Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “Putin has other work plans” for that day, he said.
Before the situation in Idlib deteriorated, the TV channel Russia 24 reported that Turkey had been shooting at Syrian and Russian aircraft in Idlib, and was actively using portable anti-air missile systems.