Turkey Deploys Special Forces to Syria's Idlib

Erdogan escalates threats against Assad loyalists in Idlib

The Turkish troops are in Idlib - nominally a cease-fire zone, under a deal between Turkey and Russian Federation - as part of an anti-terror and peace mission. The Turkish operation has resulted in limited casualties in recent months, but has allowed Erdogan to claim he will resettle as many as 1 million of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as an additional approximately 600,000 refugees from Idlib, in this so-called safe or security zone.

Commenting on the situation in Idlib on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that Damascus had every right to engage in anti-terrorist operations on its own territory.

Half of the civilians are children, struggling to survive under hard conditions in the middle of winter, he said.

"The [Syrian] regime and the Russian forces as their partners, and the Iran-backed militia, attack always civilians, massacre people, and shed blood", Erdoğan said during a speech in Ankara on Wednesday.

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Military activity and the humanitarian crisis both intensified Tuesday in the city of Idlib as Turkey and its allies clashed with Syrian forces, whose northward drive has rendered over a half-million Syrian civilians homeless since December.

Russian Federation hit back and accused the Turks of failing to "neutralize terrorists" in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib - the rebels' last stronghold in the war-wracked country. "I hereby declare that we will strike regime forces everywhere from now on regardless of the [2018] deal if any tiny bit of harm is dealt to our soldiers at observation posts or elsewhere".

Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Under the bilateral agreements, radical groups were required to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in the Idlib region held by an array of rebels. The Syrian state news agency Sana quoted a source at the foreign ministry as saying his "empty statements" were "disconnected from reality".

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