President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkey won't leave Syria's Idlib to the President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Al Jazeera reports.
Erdogan threatened to launch an operation in Syria's Idlib region by the end of the month if Damascus fails to withdraw behind Turkish military positions. "An operation in Idlib is imminent," Erdogan told his party's legislators in Parliament on Wednesday, February 19. "We are counting down, we are making our final warnings".
Russia – the Syrian government's main ally in the nearly nine-year war – responded by saying any Turkish offensive against Syrian forces in Idlib would be the "worst scenario". "If we are talking about an operation against the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Republic and armed forces of the Syrian republic this would, of course, be the worst scenario," said Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, adding Russia and Turkey were staying in contact to prevent tensions escalating further.
Erdogan said talks with Russia over the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria had failed to end in agreement and warned a military operation was just a "matter of time". He said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone "no matter the cost", even as talks continue with Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. "We will not leave Idlib to the [Syrian] regime, which does not understand our country's determination, and to those encouraging it," said Erdogan.