Erdoğan demands Syrian troops withdraw from Idlib region: report

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This handout picture taken and released by the Turkish Presidential Press Service on April 1, 2018 in Hatay shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wearing a military camouflage uniform (L) shaking hands with Turkish Second Army Commander, Ismail Metin Temel (R) as Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, Hulusi Akar (C) looks on during Erdogan's visit to border units in Turkey's Hatay province. / AFP PHOTO / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / KAYHAN OZER /

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday threatened to drive back Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month to stem an assault which he said had displaced nearly 1 million people, Reuters reported.

Shelling by Syrian government forces killed eight Turkish military personnel on Monday, prompting Turkish forces to strike back. The escalation raised concerns over future collaboration between Ankara and Moscow, which have backed opposing sides in the war despite joint efforts to ease the violence.

Erdoğan said two of Turkey’s 12 observation posts, set up around a “de-escalation zone” in northwest Syria’s Idlib region as part of a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, were now behind Syrian government front lines.

“We hope the regime will have pulled back behind our observation posts by the end of February,” he told members of his ruling party. “If that doesn’t happen, Turkey will have to take care of it itself.”

He said the Turkish military would carry out air and ground operations in Idlib when necessary.

Erdoğan has said Moscow, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Ankara, which has backed rebels who tried to topple him, should resolve the conflict “without anger” and agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve coordination of their countries’ actions in Syria.

The violence in Idlib has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

UN regional spokesman David Swanson said 520,000 people had been displaced since the beginning of December and that the numbers could swell further.

Erdoğan said nearly 1 million people were moving towards the Turkish border and Syrian territory under Turkish control. “No one has the right to place such a burden on our shoulders,” he said.

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