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Turkey sends reinforcements to Idlib, Syria, preparing to act

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Turkey has sent significant reinforcements to Idlib province in northwestern Syria, and “all options are on the table” as Ankara tries to halt the rapid progress of Syrian government forces, a senior official said on Sunday.

The government’s attack on Idlib, the last major enclave of President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, has driven more than half a million people to flee their homes towards the closed Turkish border, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Turkey, which has already received 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb more and has demanded Damascus withdraw from Idlib by the end of this month or face Turkey’s action.

Huge convoys of military vehicles carrying tanks, armored personnel carriers and other equipment crossed the border into Syria to reinforce some 12 Turkish military sites, some of which are besieged by advanced government forces in the area.

“A lot of support for soldiers and military equipment has been sent to Idlib in the past few weeks,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

He added that 300 vehicles entered Idlib on Saturday, bringing the total number to about 1,000 this month. He did not specify the number of troops deployed, but described them as “large.”

“The observation posts have been fully strengthened … the Idlib front has been strengthened,” the official said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian war and is based in Britain, said that 1,240 Turkish military vehicles crossed to Idlib last week, along with five thousand soldiers.

The fighting in Idlib has destabilized the fragile cooperation between Turkey, which supports opponents who once aspired to topple Assad, and Russia, whose support to the president helped restore his control over most of the country.

On Monday, eight Turkish army personnel were killed in bombing of the Syrian government forces, prompting Turkey to demand that Russia “step aside” while its forces bombed dozens of Syrian army targets in retaliation.

“The regime, with the support of Russia, was violating all agreements and treaties … We are ready for anything,” the official said. And of course all options are on the table. ”

Despite Turkey’s differences with Russia over Idlib, the official described their talks in Ankara on Saturday as positive. The two sides will meet again next week.

– “Turkey will take action” –

On Sunday, Syrian forces said they had recovered more than 600 square kilometers of land and had taken control of dozens of towns and villages in the past few days, adding that they were continuing to fight.

The Syrian forces added in a statement that they reaffirmed “the army continues to carry out its national duties, defend the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of citizens, rid them of the abomination of armed terrorist organizations and prevent them from confiscating their will and controlling their lives.”

Ankara had urged Moscow to stop the attack on Idlib, which made the Syrian forces 16 kilometers from the city of Idlib, the capital of the province, which is inhabited by a million people.

On Sunday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stressed that the forces should withdraw soon. “If the regime forces do not withdraw by the end of February, we will take action,” he said in an interview with the Hurriyet newspaper.

On the eastern flank of the opposition-controlled enclave, the observatory said that the advanced government forces took control of the entire M5 motorway, except for two km, which is the main road linking the north to the south and linking Damascus and Aleppo.

On Sunday, Pope Francis called for respect for humanitarian law in Idlib, saying that the reports received there were “painful … especially regarding the conditions of women and children and those forced to flee because of the military escalation”.

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