Idlib, the Syrian army attacks Turkish posts: 33 soldiers killed and 32 injured
Backed by Russia, Damascus launched a massive offensive to retake the last province in the hands of the rebels. The UN secretary general expresses "great concern", the fear of a "bloodbath". Erdogan threatens: refugees free to go to Europe.
Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The provisional toll from an air raid carried out yesterday by the army of Damascus in northwestern Syria, which triggered the response of Ankara militants, is at least 33 Turkish soldiers killed and 32 others injured. According to reports from Rahmi Dogan, governor of the Turkish province of Hatay, the majority of the victims are concentrated in the province of Idlib. Independent sources estimate an even higher number of deaths.
In recent weeks, the Syrian army, backed by Russia, has launched a massive offensive in the Idlib area, the last stronghold still under the control of jihadist groups and rebel militias close to Turkey. The fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis with the flight of hundreds of thousands of people; a situation that worries the international community and Pope Francis himself, who has renewed his appeals to stop an "immense tragedy".
The Syrian government has so far refused to comment publicly on the escalation to Idlib, the last province not under their direct control. In response to the attack, the Turkish army has promoted retaliation against some Syrian targets, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has convoked a high-level summit in Ankara with top security officials.
The escalation of violence between the two fronts worries international diplomacies and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who has expressed "great concern" for the fate of the civilian population. Since the beginning of military operations in December, almost one million people have left their homes and there is a danger of a "bloodbath" for UN leaders.
Erdogan wants the withdrawal of all Syrian forces from the area where Turkey has set up observation points; on the other hand, Damascus (and Moscow) no longer intend to respect the ceasefire lines sanctioned in 2018 and aim to reconquer the whole territory. Also yesterday, meanwhile, Turkey allegedly snatched control of Saraqeb from Syrian government forces.
Meanwhile, Erdogan returns to flag the migrants' weapon as a form of blackmail towards Europe and the West. In these hours, the Turkish government has in fact declared that it no longer intends to stop refugees trying to reach the coast of Europe, while preparing for a "large scale" offensive to repel the Syrian army. "We have decided - an senior Turkish government official behind anonymity - with immediate effect, not to stop Syrian refugees who seek to reach Europe by land or sea. All refugees, including Syrians, are free to leave for the European Union."