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Turkey requests US air support as fighting heats up in Idlib

February 21, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Vehicles of Turkish Armed Forces in Hatay, Turkey on 17 February 2020 [Burak Milli/Anadolu Agency]

Two Turkish soldiers were killed and five more wounded by a Syrian government airstrike in northwestern Syria, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said yesterday, as ongoıng clashes heightened around the Idlib province town of Neirab.

The Turkish army retaliated killing 50 Syrian regime soldiers and destroying five tanks, two armoured personnel carriers, two armoured trucks and one howitzer, the ministry announced.

Turkey also asked the US to conduct sorties along its  border with Idlib to show support for Ankara’s ongoing military operations against forces loyal to Damascus, Middle East Eye reported.

Strengthening its defences, Ankara asked Washington for two batteries of Patriot missile systems to shield its border area from air attacks, a Turkish official said.

“Trump promised that he would sanction the regime officials, or anyone involved in attacks against the civilians. And that he would issue strong-worded statements,” the official said. “But he didn’t commit himself to anything involving the military, yet.”

Last week, US President Donald Trump thanked Turkish President Recep Erdogan  for preventing a “humanitarian catastrophe” in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province.

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“Trump – in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – conveyed the United States’ desire to see an end to Russia’s support for the Assad government’s atrocities and for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict,” deputy White House press secretary said in a statement.

Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are prohibited, but more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime since then.

As part of the 2018 deal Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib to prevent a government offensive but four are now thought to be surrounded by Syrian regime forces.

Turkey has threatened to attack Damascus if it doesn’t retreat by the end of this month.

Some 800,000 people have fled since Syrian regime forces – backed by Russian air power – intensified their assault on Idlib in December.

Rights groups have warned that more than 80,000 people are sleeping in the open air in freezing temperatures after the bombardment of Idlib. According to the International Rescue Committee at least six children have died of the cold.

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