Ankara said three people were killed and 12 others injured on Monday after the Syrian airstrike, which targeted a Turkish military convoy travelling between two observation points in northern Syria. The statement said all victims were civilians, without explaining how they were involved in a military operation.
Ankara said the attack violated the agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, which paved the way to a relative de-escalation in the protracted war in Syria, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
Idlib province is the last major part of Syria largely controlled by various armed groups, some of them hardcore jihadists. On request from Russia, the Syrian government agreed not to use force to retake the region to avoid casualties among civilians, who have blood ties with Turkey.
Ankara is supposed to prevent hostilities from reigniting, with a series of observation posts spread along the provincial border to monitor the situation. The plan however never fully worked, with regular flare-ups happening between various armed groups and the Syrian Arab Army.
The nature of the attacked convoy is perceived differently by the Syrian side, however. The Syrian news agency SANA said it was carrying weapons and ammunition to “terrorist forces” in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. It’s located in the southern part of Idlib province on a highway connecting the cities of Aleppo and Hama.
Lately there has been heavy fighting near Khan Sheikhoun between Damascus forces and the group controlling the city, predominantly the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTC), formerly known as Nusra Front.
…and from Sputnik News, an earlier story:
A Turkish convoy has already crossed into the Syrian town of Saraqib, located in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib, according to state media. There has been no immediate comment from Ankara.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Turkish armoured vehicles were heading for the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in the province of Idlib, where government forces were fighting terrorists, according to the state channel Syria TV.
“Turkish armoured vehicles with munitions have violated the Syrian border and have entered the city of Saraqib, they are moving in the direction of Khan Sheikhoun…”, Syria TV quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
Ankara has yet to comment on the reports.
Syrian armed forces entered the town of Khan Sheikhoun on Sunday, amid heavy fighting with al-Nusra Front terrorists and their allies, targeting their positions and inflicting heavy losses on militants, the SANA news agency reported.
After two days of negotiations on Syria in the Kazakh captal of Nur-Sultan, a conditional ceasefire came into force on 2 August in Idlib. The Syrian Armed Forces said they would stop fighting provided Turkey fulfills its obligations under the Russian-Turkish agreement reached in September 2018 in Sochi, namely the withdrawal of militants’ heavy and medium weapons 20 kilometres away from the lines of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.
Three days later, the army resumed the military operation against terrorist groups in Idlib due to their failure to respect the ceasefire and the Sochi memorandum of 2018.
Erdogan Promised Op
In early August, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara would launch an operation east of the Euphrates River, currently controlled by self-defence forces consisting mainly of Kurdish-led militia, in Syria “very soon”.
“Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security… God willing, we will carry the process started with (previous offensives into Syria) to the next stage very soon”, he said in a televised speech on 6 August.
At the time, Erdogan added that the US and Russia had been notified of Turkey’s intentions, but refused to go into further detail.
In July, Ankara and Washington reached an agreement on establishing a safe zone at Syria’s border with Turkey and a centre to coordinate joint operations.
The Turkish side said that it wanted a safe zone an average 30-40 km to the south of its border with Syria, east of the Euphrates River that would be controlled by Turkey in coordination with the United States and be completely cleared of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), whom it views as terrorists. At the same time, Ankara warned that if they fail to reach an understanding on the matter, it would create the safe zone unilaterally.
In December 2018, Erdogan announced that Turkey was ready to kick-start a military operation against Kurdish fighters in Manbij if the United States did not remove the militia from there. He, however, later noted that the operation was postponed following a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump, who decided to withdraw all US troops from Syria.
*Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.