Turkey Rules Out Evacuating Posts in Syria's Idlib Amid Russian-backed Assault

No withdrawal from military observation posts, defense minister says ■ Ankara fears another wave of refugees as it struggles to manage hosting 3.7 million displaced Syrians

Photo taken on September 12, 2019 shows a Turkish military observation point near the town of Maar Hitat in Syria's northern Idlib province.

It is "out of the question" for Turkey to evacuate its military observation posts in Syria's Idlib, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday, after Russian and Syrian forces intensified their bombardment of targets in the northwestern province.

Turkey has 12 such posts in Idlib, and at home it hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world. It fears another wave from the region, where up to three million Syrians live in the last significant rebel-held swathe of territory after a nearly nine-year civil war.

Syria's President Bashar Assad has vowed to recapture Idlib, prompting a recent wave of refugees towards Turkey's border.

The United Nations said last week that 235,000 civilians had fled their homes in rebel-held northwestern Syria during a Russian-backed campaign of airstrikes and shelling this month. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the exodus had taken place between Dec. 12 and 25.

Most people had fled the city of Maarat al-Numan, towns and villages in southern Idlib province, Idlib city, and camps along the Syrian-Turkish border, OCHA said.

Moscow and Damascus deny claims of indiscriminate bombing of civilians, saying say they are fighting jihadist militants.

Rescue services and witnesses say hostilities have left many towns in ruins and knocked out dozens of medical centers.