Russia: Turkey merged with ‘terrorist areas’ in Syria’s Idlib

Turkey is on the brink of all-out war with Russian-backed Syrian forces in the province

A boy looks at a convoy of Turkish military vehicles near the town of Hazano in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's Idlib province on March 3, 2020. A Turkish fighter jet downed a Syrian regime warplane over northwestern Syria and the pilot was killed, a war monitor said, in the third such downing in three days. Regime artillery fire, meanwhile, killed nine civilians in the main city in the embattled opposition bastion of Idlib. Regime forces have since December been battling to retake the jihadist-dominated stronghold, where Ankara backs some rebel groups.
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Russia has hit out at Turkey as the two countries square off in Syria’s Idlib province, saying that Ankara’s forces have inserted themselves within “terrorist areas”.

Ministry of Defence Spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov was quoted by a Russian news agency as saying that Turkey had allowed the "merging of fortified terrorist areas with Turkish observation posts".

Maj Gen Koshnenkov said the mixing of Turkish forces with groups such as Hayat Tahrir Al Sham was a result of Ankrara failing to abide by the terms of the 2018 Sochi agreements.

He accused Turkey of reneging on its obligations under the pact to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib province and of helping militants instead.

The Russian accusations came before talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday.

Earlier talks between Moscow and Ankara in February to de-escalate the violence in north-west Syria failed to deliver results.

Since last month's talks, Ankara has launched a new offensive across Idlib in response to the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers there in Syrian air strikes.

Despite the deteriorating situation on the ground, Turkey and Russia have looked to preserve a line of communication away from direct conflict.

Ankara has emphasised that it is only taking on regime forces, not the regime's Russian backers.

Russia refused to intervene on Syria’s behalf after the Turkish attacks, a first since the conflict in Idlib escalated last December.

However, Moscow has continued to lash out at Turkey for failing to evict groups like Al Qaeda-linked HTS, maintaining that Syrian forces have continued to push out the militants with Moscow's backing.

Maj Gen Koshshenkov said Russia and Syria's offensive had created a safe distance between the forces aligned against the Syrian government and Aleppo.

He also accused Turkey of breaching international law by amassing troop numbers in Idlib equal to the size of a mechanised division.

The Ministry of Defence spokesman said that daily attacks on Russia's Hmeimim air base in Syria had been launched from rebel positions, essentially facilitated by a Turkish shield.

As it grapples with another wave of refugees from the conflict in Idlib, Turkey has put pressure on Europe by delivering on a threat to open its borders and send migrants into Europe.

Mr Erdogan's action triggered days of violent clashes and scenes of chaos at the border, where thousands of migrants and refugees have gathered.

Hundreds more have headed to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast in dinghies.

One child died when the rubber dinghy he was in capsized off the coast off the Greek island of Lesbos earlier this week.