Turkey Suffers Casualties as Syrian Government Continues Advance on Idlib

President Erdogan says to meet Putin, Merkel and Macron on March 5 ■ Nearly a million people, mostly women and children, displaced since December

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A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armored vehicles passes through the Syrian town of Dana, Idlib province, February 2, 2020.
A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armored vehicles passes through the Syrian town of Dana, Idlib province, February 2, 2020. Credit: AFP

A Turkish soldier was killed in Syria’s Idlib region in a bomb attack by Russian-backed government forces, the defense ministry said on Saturday, Turkey’s 16th military death during a month in which talks between Ankara and Moscow have stalled.

Turkish forces retaliated and destroyed 21 “regime targets”, the ministry said, adding the soldier was a tank mechanic who died when transferred to hospital.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment to northwest Syria, just south of its border, to head off a push in recent weeks by Russia-backed Syrian government forces to retake the rebel-held territory after nine years of war.

Turkey, which already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another wave and has closed it borders even while the Syrian offensive and Russian air raids have displaced nearly a million people - mostly women and children - since early December.

Internally displaced girls pose for a picture at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria, February 19, 2020. Credit: Muhammed Said / Anadolu Agency /
An internally displaced woman holds the hand of a child carrying bread, as they walk on snow at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria, February 13, 2020.Credit: KHALIL ASHAWI/ REUTERS

Erdogan said on Saturday he will meet Russian, German and French counterparts on March 5 to discuss the situation. "I expressed our determination on clearly to [Vladimir] Putin yesterday. I also mentioned it to [Angela] Merkel and [Emmanuel] Macron," Erdogan said. "On March 5, we will meet with Putin, Macron and Merkel, and we will talk about these again."

After a series of calls on Friday, the German and French leaders expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Idlib and urged an end to the conflict, while the Kremlin said it is discussing the possibility of holding a four-way summit. 

The rising number of military casualties, including two on Thursday, could complicate Ankara’s talks with Moscow over a possible deal to halt the fighting.

After delegations from the two sides failed to reach an agreement in the last two weeks, President Tayyip Erdogan has promised to push back Syrian government forces if they press on.

Turkey has “determined our road map” for Syria after calls with the leaders of Russia, Germany and France on Friday, Erdogan told supporters in Izmir on Saturday. “We will announce to all parties that we are at the table.”

DPA contributed to this report. 

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