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Iran Press TV

Russia urges Turkey to halt support of 'terrorists' in Syria's flashpoint Idlib province

Iran Press TV

Thursday, 20 February 2020 6:11 PM

Russia has called on Turkey to stop "supporting terrorists" in northern Syria, as Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes against targets of Turkey-backed militants and Syrian army troops repelled an attack by terror outfits in flashpoint Idlib province.

"We urge the Turkish side, in order to avoid incidents, to cease support of the actions of terrorists and handing them arms," said a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday, blaming Ankara for aiding terrorists by firing artillery as they carried out an attack.

The ministry said it had notified Ankara that it had spotted Turkish artillery firing on Syrian army units, wounding four soldiers, adding, "We note this is not the first case of support" for militants by Turkey.

On Wednesday, Moscow warned Ankara against launching attacks against Syrian army soldiers after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to commence a military operation in Idlib region.

Moscow's reaction comes as Ankara has just beefed up its military presence in Idlib, the last militant bastion in a nine-year war, where several anti-Damascus militant outfits receive Turkey's support in their persisting militancy against the Syrian government.

Syria and Russia have condemned Turkey's cross-border offensive into the Arab country to allegedly clear anti-Ankara Kurdish militants from a sliver of land bordering the Anatolian country.

Back in 2018, Moscow and Ankara reached an Iran-brokered deal, known as the Sochi agreement, to set up a de-militarization zone mainly situated in northern Idlib.

However, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, which is the dominant terror organization in the province, and other militant groups, along with those supported by Ankara, have been launching attacks on army and civilian targets from the buffer zone, where Turkish observation posts have been established to monitor the enforcement of the ceasefire there.

The increasing attacks prompted Damascus last August to begin liberating areas from the grip of terrorists in the province. It also started its full-scale offensive in December to flush all militant groups out of Idlib, prompting Ankara to increase its military presence there to keep supporting its militants groups against advancing Syrian government troops.

Turkey-backed militants' attack successfully repelled: Moscow

Elsewhere in the statement on Thursday, the Russian defense ministry said that Turkey's artillery support of militants helped them briefly broke through government defenses in Idlib.

However, Russia's air cover hit positions of the infiltrating pro-Turkish militants in the two areas of Qaminas and Nayrab of Idlib province, allowing the Syrian army troops to successfully repel the attack, it added.

"The Syrian troops destroyed one tank, six infantry fighting vehicles and five pickup trucks containing large-caliber weapons," said the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria in a message.

Syria's official SANA news agency also confirmed the successful counterattack, adding that militants had launched their attack using mortar shells and rocket launchers.

Turkish forces killed 50 Syrian troopers, lost 2 soldiers: Ankara

In another development, Turkey's Defense Ministry said on its Twitter account on Thursday that two Turkish troopers had been killed, while five others sustained injuries in an air attack in Syria's Idlib.

According to different sources in the region, over 50 Syrian soldiers, five tanks, two armored personnel carriers, two armored pickups and one howitzer were destroyed, it claimed.

Turkish officials say of the 12 observation posts Ankara has established in Idlib four have been encircled by advancing Syrian army troops.

Moscow took issue with Ankara after the Turkish president threatened that his military would rain fire on Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in the Arab country if another Turkish trooper was hurt.

Erdogan has given the Syrian government until the end of February to push back its forces outside the military locations.

Over the past four years, the Turkish military has staged at least two unauthorized invasions into northern Syria to push back against Kurdish militants, which Ankara accuses of harboring subversive intentions against the Turkish administration.

Syria has denounced the invasions, saying it would respond in kind if the need arose.

Bomb blast wounds two in Damascus

Meanwhile, Syria's official SANA news agency reported later on Thursday that a bomb blast had injured two people in capital Damascus.

"An explosive device planted on a pickup truck went off in the Marjeh area" in central Damascus, SANA said, adding that two civilians were wounded by the blast.

According to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the device was a "sticky bomb" planted on a military vehicle. It was not immediately clear what the target of the blast was.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, just as was the case with a similar explosion, which wounded five people in another neighborhood of Damascus on Tuesday.

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