The presidents of Turkey and Russia have “voiced concern” about the escalation of tensions in northwest Syria, a day after dozens of Turkish troopers have been killed in air raids by means of Moscow-backed Syrian government forces.
Friday’s telephone call between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin got here as refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria’s Idlib province continued to flock to the border with Turkey, carrying testimonies of horror and hardship. “Death is all around,” one Syrian man who managed to pass over informed Al Jazeera.
Nearly a million people have been pressured from their houses in Idlib in view that the Syrian authorities launched its offensive to capture the province from Turkey-backed opposition forces in December – a crisis the United Nations has referred to as a “man-made humanitarian nightmare”.
The speedy boost of the Syrian government forces, backed through Russian airpower, and the deaths of the 33 Turkish troops on Thursday have raised fears of a direct navy war of words between Ankara and Moscow. The toll from Thursday’s attack was once the largest army loss Ankara has suffered in one day due to the fact it intervened in Syria in 2016.
As tensions escalated, Erdogan and Putin spoke on the smartphone at Turkey’s initiative, according to the Kremlin.
“Both facets reaffirmed that it was imperative to adopt additional measures in order to normalise the scenario in northwestern Syria,” the Kremlin said. “They agreed to step up the corresponding interagency consultations and to study the opportunity of soon preserving a assembly at the best possible level.”
A summit should take vicinity between the two leaders as early as subsequent week, a spokesman for Putin stated afterwards. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Turkey’s foreign ministry said Ankara demanded a “sustainable truce, de-escalation and withdrawal of Syrian government forces” at talks with a Russian delegation in Ankara.
Turkey ‘strikes 200 targets’
Turkey and Russia, even though assisting opposing aspects in the Syrian conflict, keep diplomatic relations that have been persistently examined due to the fact that the Syrian government’s offensive on Idlib, the closing fundamental opposition stronghold in the country.
Earlier this month, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad captured the arterial M5 highway, which hyperlinks all of the country’s predominant cities and six provinces, and consolidated manage over Aleppo province. This has come at a heavy price to the Turkish military, which has 12 remark posts in the area underneath a 2017 and 2018 “de-escalation zone” agreement with Russia.
Some of these positions now lie in areas seized with the aid of the Syrian government.
Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said his country’s army had responded to the Syrian government attack through putting 200 of their aims from the air and ground. Some 309 Syrian troops have been “neutralised”, he said. Among the goals were Syrian government helicopters, navy tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers and ammunition depots.
“This assault [on Turkish soldiers] befell even though the locations of our troops had been coordinated with Russian officers in the field,” he said. The Russian overseas ministry, denied the claim, saying: “Turkish troopers who were in the combat formations of terrorists got here below the furnace of Syrian troops.”
Meanwhile, following an emergency NATO assembly in Brussels, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg known as on Syria and Russia to “stop the indiscriminate air attacks” and to “fully have interaction in UN-led efforts for a peaceable political solution”.
“We also name on Russia and the Syrian regime to utterly recognize international law,” Stoltenberg said, before including that the assembly was once “an expression of support” for NATO ally Turkey.
The European Union additionally weighed in, warning any escalation could lead to a “major open global army confrontation”.
“It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s overseas coverage chief, stated in a Twitter post. “EU calls on all aspects for fast de-escalation and regrets all loss of life.” The tweet came as some Turkish officers warned the EU the scenario in Idlib should result in a new mass glide of refugees and migrants closer to Europe.
France backed Turkey, while the United Kingdom known as for an emergency assembly of the UN Security Council to discuss the escalating frictions.
‘Crisis containment mode’
But no matter Turkey’s anger at Assad’s forces, Ankara was not likely to are looking for a disagreement with Moscow, in accordance to Galip Dalay, a political analyst and non-resident fellow at Brookings Institute in Doha, Qatar.
The phone call between Erdogan and Putin alerts Turkey was once “in a disaster containment mode with Russia,” Dalay told Al Jazeera. And unless Turkey received a robust commitment from the United States and NATO – such as the imposition of no-fly sector association over Idlib – Ankara would observe a method of elevating the price of the conflict for Moscow by means of placing Syrian authorities forces.
“Turkey will proceed to goal the Syrian regime however will be very careful in terms of targeting Russia,” he said. “Turkey will most in all likelihood make bigger its geographic scope when it comes to targeting Syrian regime forces beyond Idlib, which can also enlarge to Aleppo and east of the Euphrates. But it will do so in a way that will now not completely destroy its family members with Russia.”
In Reyhanli, a town on the Turkish facet of the border, some Syrians said the tensions in Idlib was once exacting a heavy charge of civilians.
“People are dying,” said Maher Arjah, who crosses the Syria-Turkey border often for work and had arrived in Reyhanli on Friday. “Last seven months have gone from horrific to worse. We heard the shelling final night, it was once very loud.”
Abdel Aziz Abed, a medical doctor in Aleppo, a province neighbouring Idlib, stated there was once a scarcity of medical components in overcrowded refugee camps in the region, whilst the clinic he used to work at had been destroyed in an air raid.
According to the UN, at least 299 civilians have been killed, most of them in Syrian authorities air raids, due to the fact that January 1.
Abdullah Hussein, member of the Syria civil defence group, additionally recognised as the White Helmets, stated the situation in Idlib is “disastrous in each and every meaning of the word”. He put the toll higher at 372.
“The humans there are strolling out of picks of what to do,” he informed Al Jazeera from his workplace in Reyhanli. “The Syrian authorities shelling, backed via Russian warplanes, has centered even the foremost roads that the civilians are the use of to flee specific towns and villages. So, they face both staying in their properties or going to the borders the place getting a tent there is now not even guaranteed.”
Hussein, who often travels back and forth to Idlib thru the Bab al-Hawa crossing, stated he noticed households on the streets on the Syrian facet of the border with nothing however the clothes on their backs.
“With the development of Syrian forces in the direction of the highland Mount Zawiya place in the remaining two days, human beings there have abandoned their villages and towns,” he said, referring to a region in southern Idlib province.
“Our groups and medical alleviation agencies can’t even get right of entry to the place due to the severity of the aerial bombardment there.”