Turkey threatened on Saturday to respond if any of its military outposts in Syria’s last opposition bastion of Idlib came under attack, a day after officials said three of them had been encircled by forces loyal to Damascus.
Under an agreement with Russia, key ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib to avert an offensive by Syrian regime forces.
The Idlib region is home to around three million people, half of whom were evacuated by regime forces from other parts of the country after they besieged cities controlled by the opposition and bombarded them with Russian airpower.
Turkey this week sent large military convoys to beef up these positions, with officials on Friday reporting that three of them had been surrounded by regime troops.
“Our observation posts in Idlib continue their duties and are capable of protecting themselves with the weapons and equipment they possess,” the Turkish defense ministry said on Twitter.
“In the event of a new attack, proper response will be given in the strongest manner, based on the right of self-defense,” the tweet said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given Syria an ultimatum to drive back its troops from its military observation posts by the end of February after eight Turks were killed in regime fire on Monday.
The deadly clashes have angered Turkey, which urged Moscow to press the regime for an end to its offensive.
A Russian delegation was due to hold talks on Saturday with Turkish officials over the situation in Idlib.
Turkey and Russia have worked closely in recent years to resolve the situation in Idlib despite being on opposing sides of the conflict.
The Syrian war, which started with the regime’s deadly oppression of anti-government protests, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced more than half the country’s population.