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Turkey fears fresh migrant influx as it threatens offensive over Syria attacks

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Moving out: Men on motorbikes pass trucks carrying the belongings of displaced Syrians in Idlib. Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Moving out: Men on motorbikes pass trucks carrying the belongings of displaced Syrians in Idlib. Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

REUTERS

Moving out: Men on motorbikes pass trucks carrying the belongings of displaced Syrians in Idlib. Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Turkey may launch a military operation in Syria's north-western Idlib region unless fighting there is quickly halted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday as attacks by Syrian government forces risked a new wave of refugees.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, backed by Russian air power, have made rapid advances in Idlib, the last major rebel-held stronghold in Syria's nearly nine-year war, in an offensive which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

The recent campaign has also raised tensions between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing sides in the conflict.

Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees from Syria, fears a fresh wave of migrants from Idlib.

It has 12 military observation posts around Idlib, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, and several of them have since been surrounded by advancing Syrian government forces.

Mr Erdogan accuses Russia of violating agreements to reduce the fighting in Idlib, a charge Moscow denied yesterday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Idlib was a haven for militants targeting Syrian troops and a Russian airbase in Syria.

Speaking in Ankara, Mr Erdogan repeated Turkey could not handle a fresh influx of migrants and would not allow new threats near its borders, even if it meant resorting to military power as it did in three previous cross-border operations in northern Syria.

"We will do what is necessary when someone is threatening our soil. We will have no choice but to resort to the same path again if the situation in Idlib is not returned to normal quickly," he said.

He also appeared to hold out the option of another operation in north-eastern Syria, where in October Ankara targeted the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia it calls a terrorist group.

"We will not refrain from doing what is necessary, including using military force," he said, adding Turkey wants stability and security in Syria.

Later yesterday, the Kremlin said Russia was fully compliant with its obligations in Idlib, but that it was deeply concerned about what it said were aggressive militant attacks on Syrian government forces and Russia's Hmeimim air base.

Turkey, which has backed rebels fighting to oust Mr Assad, has repeatedly called for the Syrian president to step down, even while Iran, Russia and Turkey have said they seek a political solution to the conflict.

"We will not allow the regime to put our country under the constant threat of migrants by tormenting, attacking, spilling the blood of its people," Mr Erdogan said.

Irish Independent