Ankara and Moscow tensions rise as Turkish military convoy enters Syria

A Turkish military convoy entered Syrian territory from the Kafrlosin border crossing, according to a Syrian war monitor, two days after President Erdogan said Turkey may launch a military operation in Idlib.

The convoy consists of 40 tanks, armored vehicles, troop carriers, and military and logistic equipment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

No information around the convoy’s destination is currently available.

Russian airstrikes were heard in a town in the southwest of Aleppo province, which the Turkish convoy reportedly entered, according to the Observatory.

Turkey has 12 military observation posts around Idlib, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran. Several of them have since been surrounded by advancing Syrian regime forces.

Erdogan accuses Russia, which backs the Syrian regime, of violating agreements to reduce the fighting in Idlib, a charge Moscow denied on Friday.

The Turkish President said on Friday that Turkey may launch a military operation in Syria’s Idlib region unless fighting there is “quickly halted.”

On Friday, regime forces battled extremists and moderate opposition forces on the outskirts of Idlib’s Saraqib, which has been nearly deserted following two weeks of heightened bombardment, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fighting in Idlib and in western Aleppo over the past week has killed 205 pro-government fighters and 220 anti-regime combatants, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airpower, have made rapid advances in the Idlib region, the last major opposition-held stronghold in Syria’s nearly nine-year war – which began after the Syrian regime’s brutal oppression of peaceful protests demanding reform and regime change.

If Saraqib falls in the hands of the government, it would be the second strategic town in Idlib province, after Maarat al-Numan, to be recaptured by regime troops this week.

The region is home to around three million people, half of whom have been evacuated by Assad’s forces from other parts of the country after the Syrian regime besieged whole cities which were controlled by the opposition and bombarded them with Russian airstrikes.

Armed factions controlling the opposition’s last bastion include extremists, whom the Syrian regime and Russia claim they are fighting. 

The Assad-Russian campaign on Idlib has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, posing a risk of a new refugee wave on bordering Turkey, which backs factions of the Syrian armed opposition.

On Friday, the Kremlin said Russia was fully compliant with its obligations in Idlib, but that it was deeply concerned about what it said were “aggressive militant attacks” on Syrian government forces and Russia’s Hmeimim airbase.

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