Turkey warns Syria against attacks on Idlib outposts
Under an agreement with Russia, key ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib to avert an offensive by Syrian government forces.
Turkey this week sent nearly 150 vehicles with commandos and ammunition to beef up these positions, with officials on Friday reporting that three of them had been surrounded by regime troops.
"Our observation posts in Idlib continue their duties and are capable of protecting themselves with the weapons and equipment they possess," the Turkish defence ministry said on Twitter.
"In the event of a new attack, proper response will be given in the strongest manner, based on the right of self-defence."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given Syria an ultimatum to drive back its troops from its military observation posts by the end of February after eight Turks were killed in regime fire on Monday.
Read also: As Syria regime inches closer, Idlib city prepares for mass exodus of civilians
The deadly clashes have angered Turkey, which urged Moscow to press the regime for an end to its offensive.
Reports from The New Arab's Arabic service said Turkey was building a new observation post to the west of Sarmin, in eastern Idlib province.
They added that a convoy including six tanks, five armoured personnel carriers and 23 armoured vehicles left Taftanaz military airport in Idlib and headed east towards the town of Binnish.
Russian officials will arrive in Ankara for talks on Saturday, Turkey's foreign minister said on Friday.
"A delegation from Russia will arrive in Turkey. We will hold talks. Our goal is to stop the (Syrian) regime's aggression and move the political process forward," Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
Turkish diplomatic sources told The New Arab's Arabic service that Ankara would reinstate its demands for Syrian regime forces to withdraw out of the de-escalation zone around Idlib, or launch a large-scale escalation.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes in recent weeks as the Syrian regime, backed by Russian air strikes, presses an assault to retake Idlib.
Regime forces on Thursday seized large parts of the key highway town of Saraqeb along with strategic parts of the Damascus-Aleppo main road, as they accelerate their offensive to recapture the enclave.
Comment: In Idlib, Assad's war machine has a lethal message: 'Leave or die'
Strikes on Idlib city by Russian warplanes on Thursday evening killed at least 10 civilians, The New Arab’s Arabic service reported.
Weeks of intensive aerial bombardment and a steadily advancing ground offensive have emptied entire towns in the Idlib region and forced some 586,000 Syrians to flee their homes since December.
Nearly all of the previously 110,000 people who used to reside in Saraqeb have now fled.
Turkey and Russia have worked closely in recent years to resolve the situation in Idlib despite being on opposing sides of the conflict.