Edward Yeranian - Voice of America
CAIRO, EGYPT - Syrian government forces continue to whittle away at Turkish-supported rebel forces inside Syria's besieged Idlib enclave, gaining more ground along the strategic Damascus-to-Aleppo highway. Despite warnings by both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron to halt the offensive, the Syrian army appears poised to capture another strategic town.
Syrian state TV reported Thursday that military advances, beginning with the recent capture of Maarat Naaman and 22 smaller towns, have "sparked a collapse in morale" among Turkish-supported rebel forces in Idlib province.
Turkish military forces, which have 12 observation posts ringing the Idlib enclave, attempted to reinforce rebel positions in a number of strategic locations, including Taftenaz Airport, as well as the towns of Binesh and Maarat Misreen. Syrian forces are now outside the strategic town of Saraqeb and appear poised to take it.
Erdogan said the Syrian government advance had caused an unacceptable "flood of a million [Syrian] refugees" toward Turkish territory in recent days. He demanded that government forces withdraw from areas close to Turkish army observation posts.
He said two of Turkey's observation posts — established in coordination with Russia in the Sochi accord — are now behind Syrian government lines. He is demanding that Damascus withdraw from these positions by the end of February or else Turkey, he warns, will take military action to force it to do so.
By the Sochi accord, he was referring to an agreement reached in the Russian resort aimed at demilitarizing Idlib, the last-remaining rebel enclave.
Turkey shelled Syrian government positions during the past several days to avenge the deaths of more than a half dozen of its soldiers in a Syrian government attack this week. Erdogan said Ankara would retaliate "without warning."
Arab media reported that a Russian military delegation was visiting the Turkish capital, Ankara, Thursday to discuss the recent escalation of violence in Idlib province, in which it acknowledged that both Turkish and Russian military forces have been killed. The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement denouncing what it said were "over a thousand rebel attacks on government forces in the past month."
Syrian government media showed video of Turkey moving trucks and other military equipment into Idlib province to reinforce its presence there.
The United States' Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, called the situation in Idlib "very serious" and warned that Washington was considering "imposing sanctions" on those involved in the military escalation.
Jeffrey also said that "not only Russia but the Iranians and Hezbollah have been actively involved in supporting the Syrian offensive." The U.N. Security Council was due to meet to discuss the Idlib situation later Thursday.
The United States recently cut off intelligence cooperation with Turkey, after the Turkish military moved more forces into Syria.
Syrian Army Enters Key Town as Turkey Beefs Up its Troops by Bassem Mroue and Daria Litvinova - Associated Press
Syrian government troops entered a strategic town in the country’s last rebel stronghold Thursday after fierce clashes with opposition fighters, even as Turkey sent reinforcements seeking to curtail the offensive, Syrian state media reported.
The push by President Bashar Assad’s forces into towns and villages in the northwestern Idlib province has caused the displacement of more than a half million people in just over two months, compounding a humanitarian disaster in the region packed with internally displaced people. It has also angered Turkey and risked a military confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops.
The town of Saraqeb, near the Turkish border, has been at the center of intense fighting for days. Opposition fighters pushed out government soldiers who entered it Wednesday, while Turkey sent in new reinforcements Thursday and threatened to use force to compel the Syrian forces to retreat by the end of the month.
The town sits at the intersection of two major highways, one linking the capital Damascus to the north and another connecting the country’s west and east…