Turkish concern for the Syrian northwestern province of Idlib and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s condemnation of Russian and regime war crimes are equally motivated by national concerns as they are internationalism, wrote journalist James Snell in the Arab Weekly.
The eight-year long ongoing battle along Turkey’s border in neighbouring Syria is not one that Ankara can turn a blind eye to, however, it is both beyond Turkish containment and entirely out of the country’s control, the article underlined.
Ankara has played a significant but not determining role in Syria’s war, Snell wrote, noting however that Turkish actions and words have proven various, flexible and not entirely effective.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been one of the strongest critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad since the conflict broke out in 2011. Russian and Iranian support has allowed Assad’s forces to systematically defeat rebel groups across the country, and with the opposition boxed in to Idlib province, Turkey’s priorities have changed to opposing Kurdish groups in northern Syria and preventing conflict in Idlib.
Ankara also fears a full-scale assault by Assad and his allies on Idlib would overwhelm opposition fighters and could potentially leave millions of refugees seeking to cross the Turkish border.
‘’Turkey has solidified its presence in Idlib, but not without reversals… Turkish forces and their rebel allies are under fire from the regime and its allies and unable to control the situation,’’ the article underlined.
Ankara points the finger at the Assad regime for allowing Russian atrocities while threatening retaliation if the regime continued to attack its observation posts in Idlib and Hama.
Turkish forces reportedly exchanged artillery and mortar fire with regime forces in west Hama in response to a regime attack on June 16, according to rebel and opposition news sources.
Ankara on Sunday said Syrian government forces had attacked its observation posts in Syria’s Idlib for a third time in less than one month on Saturday.
Turkish interventions in Syria are designed to control the border and prevent the extensive movement of refugees into and through Turkey and to protect Turkey from the potential threat of Kurdish terrorism, namely the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara designates a terrorist organisation and an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
While Ankara’s official policy is the protection Syrians from Assad and secure its Syrian border,, actions by Turkish local government, such as trying to stop Syrians using public amenities, such as beaches, in the southern province of Antalya’s Gazipaşa, prove that there is more to the stance of the Turkish government, the article highlighted.
Syrian Historian Sami Moubayed, another contributor to the Arab Weekly, on Sunday said that amid ongoing troubles in Idlib, Erdoğan has been eyeing the city of Tel Rifaat located 40 km north of Aleppo. Turkey’s strongman says Kurdish separatists are in hiding here since their eviction from Afrin last year following a cross-border military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Moubayed noted that Idlib has taken far longer than most people expected due factors such as the June 6 attack by the Turkish-backed opposition forces, repelling the advance and retaking a handful of the towns from the Syrian Army.
Idlib will soon morph into a war of attrition with the goal of the gradual surrender through sustained attacks, the article underlined, unless Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin hammer out a new deal.
Last September Russia and Turkey signed a deal to prevent an attack by Assad’s forces on the northwestern province of Idlib. The province has since fallen almost completely under the control of jihadist groups barred by the agreement.