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Large Turkish military convoys enter Syria as Ankara-Moscow tensions rise

Published: Updated:

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

The three convoys are heading toward Idlib and Aleppo, the Observatory said, amid reports that Ankara will militarize the Aleppo-Latakia road in a sign of rising tensions between the two countries supporting opposing sides of the Syrian conflict.

Russian airstrikes on Syria

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

The airstrikes killed at least 14 civilians in the northwestern region on Sunday, seven of whom are members of one family, the Syrian Observatory reported.

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.

Turkish military operation

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.

Idlib significance

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.

With agencies.