Turkey will not pull out of Idlib despite regime forces advancing Akar

Turkey's defence minister said on Tuesday as many as four observation posts and two military positions are now in Syrian regime-controlled territory as regime forces continue their advance into the last opposition stronghold, an offensive that has escalated tensions between the Syrian regime and Turkey.

In an interview with AP, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey would not vacate any of its 12 observation posts in Idlib and warned that Turkish soldiers were under orders to retaliate forcefully to Syrian regime attacks on the military posts.

“In the event of any action against them, they have been given instructions to retaliate even more powerfully," Akar said. “In the event anything happens, there will be retaliation. We expect the regime to not take any action under any circumstances.” “We have said over and over that we would not pull back our personnel, soldiers from there. They will continue their mission," he said.

Turkey has recently sent additional troops and tanks to bolster its military presence in northwestern Syria, where Assad regime forces have been advancing in a devastating, Russian-backed offensive that has sparked a massive exodus of people. According to the Turkish defence ministry in two separate Syrian regime attacks killed 12 Turkish soldiers and a contractor, over 200 regime elements have been eliminated.

Akar spoke as regime forces came closer to capturing the last opposition-held part of a strategic M5 highway linking southern and northern Syria, which would bring the road under Assad's full control for the first time since 2012. With backing from Russia, regime troops have been on the offensive for weeks in Idlib and parts of Aleppo, triggering a humanitarian crisis with some 700,000 people fleeing their homes and surging north toward the Turkish border. Akar said Turkey was pressing Russia to use its influence on Assad to ensure that his forces pull back to a previously agreed ceasefire line, and to vacate a strategic highway.

“We have asked for regime elements to immediately withdraw from the M5 route and we will continue to ask [for that],” Akar said.

“We want [them] to stop these regime attacks immediately, to [ensure] the ceasefire is complied with and in turn, for the people to return to their homes, their land,” the minister said.

The minister insisted Turkey's aim in Idlib is to shore up a ceasefire agreement for the region that was negotiated in 2018 and prevent a refugee flow. The ceasefire, which has since collapsed, was brokered by Russia, which backs Assad, and Turkey, which supports some opposition groups in the area.

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