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AFP
February 14, 2020

Turkey threatens force against ‘radicals’

World

AFP
February 14, 2020

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Thursday threatened to use force against "radicals" in Syria’s Idlib province after Russia accused Ankara of failing to "neutralise" jihadist groups under a 2018 deal.

"Force will be used in Idlib against those who do not abide by the ceasefire, including the radicals," Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

"Any form of measure will be taken," he said.

Idlib -- the last opposition bastion in Syria -- is held by an array of rebels including the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, led by members of the country’s former al-Qaeda franchise.

President Bashar-al-Assad’s forces have pressed ahead with an offensive in the region since December, killing more than 380 civilians, according to the monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The killing of 14 Turks in Idlib in government shelling has fuelled tensions between Ankara and Damascus, while raising stakes with Russia -- a key ally of Assad.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Russia of committing "massacres" in Idlib and threatened to strike government forces anywhere in Syria if the slightest harm is done to Turkish troops.

In return, Moscow accused Ankara of failing to honour the 2018 deal, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Turkish side "had taken upon itself an obligation to neutralise terrorist groups" in Idlib.

Under the bilateral agreement, radical groups were required to withdraw from a demilitarised zone in the Idlib region. Turkey has also set up 12 observation posts in Idlib -- of which three were encircled by Assad’s forces, according to Turkish officials.

Erdogan has now given Damascus until the end of the month to push back its forces outside the military locations. Turkey has sent reinforcements including troops and artillery to beef up its observation posts in recent days following the series of exchanges with the Syrian army.

Akar said: "We are sending additional units to establish a ceasefire and make it long-lasting. We will control the field." Meanwhile, Syria’s parliament on Thursday recognised the 1915-1917 murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, as tensions run high with Turkey after deadly clashes in northwest Syria.

"The parliament... condemns and recognises the genocide committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman state at the start of the twentieth century," the legislature said in a statement.

The Armenians seek international recognition that the mass killings of their people under the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 amounted to genocide. They say 1.5 million died. Turkey strongly denies the accusation of genocide and says that both Armenians and Turks died as a result of World War I. It puts the death toll in the hundreds of thousands.

The move comes after weeks of tensions between Ankara and Damascus over deadly clashes between the two sides in northwest Syria that Ankara says has killed 14 of its soldiers. Russia-backed government forces have since December upped their deadly bombardment of the last major bastion of opposition in northwest Syria, where Ankara supports the rebels and has deployed troops.

The offensive on the Jihadist-dominated bastion of Idlib has also forced 700,000 people from their homes towards the closed Turkish border, the United Nations says. Beyond Idlib, Turkey and its proxies have conducted three operations in Syria against both the Islamic State group and Kurdish fighters it views as "terrorists".

Parliaments in nearly 30 countries have passed laws, resolutions or motions recognising the genocide. The US congress in December recognised the mass killings as genocide, angering Turkey. President Donald Trump’s administration said it did not agree.