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Ankara denies truce in Idlib, vows to respond if assaults continue on its observation posts

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Turkey’s foreign minister denied Russian media reports regarding a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib city, a last stronghold for rebels, adding that a recent attack on its observation posts by the Syrian army in the de-militarized zone in the city was deliberate and vowed to respond if the assaults continue, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

“We think these attacks are intentional. We will do whatever necessary if they continue,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at a joint press conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian on Thursday in the Turkish capital.

The Turkish Defense Ministry announced early on Thursday that Syrian regime forces carried out a deliberate attack on a Turkish observation post in Idlib province, involving 35 mortar shells. Three Turkish soldiers were slightly injured as a result of the attack.

“Some 35 mortars were fired from the As Shariah region, controlled by Syrian forces in the Idlib de-escalation zone. They targeted our observation post number 10, located on Mount Zawiya,” the Defense Ministry’s statement said.

Turkey has 12 observation posts in the region for monitoring an already broken ceasefire between regime forces and opposition groups in line with a deal with Russia to avoid a massive humanitarian tragedy.

The attack came hours after Russian news agencies suggested that Russia and Turkey had brokered a complete ceasefire in the province effective at midnight, citing Russian military sources. The Russian military said the ceasefire applied to the so-called Idlib de-escalation zone and had led to a significant reduction in violence on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported.

However, intensive shelling continued to target towns and cities in the southern Idlib countryside and northern Hama countryside after midnight, when the ceasefire was supposed to take effect, civil defense told Reuters.

Despite Russian statements, Çavuşoğlu informed the media that “there was no full ceasefire” in the province and that talks with Russia were still underway. Çavuşoğlu slammed the Syrian government for a recent wave of attacks against civilians, including schools and hospitals, which has already pushed more than 200,000 people to leave their homes.

“As the guarantors of the Astana Process, Russia and Iran should use their influence on the Syrian regime to stop these attacks,” Çavuşoğlu added, referring to the peace process to end the civil war in Syria.

The latest reports, however, show that not only the Syrian army is attacking positions in Idlib. The Russian Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that its planes had carried out four air strikes against militants in Syria’s Idlib region, the RIA news agency reported. The Russian military said that the Turkish army had asked for its help to protect Turkish troops by striking “terrorists in Idlib.”

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