The Russian Defense Ministry says its Air Force launched strikes to repel a militant offensive against the Syrian Army in Idlib, which had sought to breach the government forces’ defensive lines with Turkey’s backing.
The militants launched a “massive offensive” southeast of the city of Idlib, using many armored vehicles, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria said on Thursday, adding that it was Turkish artillery that helped them breach the Syrian Army’s defenses in some areas.
Aerial footage published by the Russian Defense Ministry shows a Turkish self-propelled howitzer battery shelling the Syrian Army positions.
At the request of Damascus, Russian Su-24 strike aircraft hit the advancing armed groups, helping Syrian forces to repel the offensive, destroying a tank and six infantry-fighting vehicles, among other hardware.
The Turkish forces stopped the artillery barrage after Moscow contacted Ankara.The Reconciliation Center also said that the Turkish shelling left four Syrian soldiers injured. Moscow also once again called on Ankara to cease its support for terrorists in Idlib, and stop handing over weapons to them.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said that two Turkish soldiers were killed and five others injured in the air strikes.
The incident comes amid a spike in tensions between Damascus and Ankara. Turkey has opposed the Syrian Army’s advances in the battle against extremists and militants entrenched in Idlib province for quite some time.
On Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would not “leave Idlib to the Assad regime” and threatened to launch another incursion into the province. Turkey had already reinforced its outposts in the area, which is the last remaining major militant stronghold on the Syrian territory.
Back in 2018, Russia and Turkey struck a deal on Idlib, under which Ankara should have used its influence on the ground to scale back and eventually halt attacks from within the troubled province. It also should have separated the “moderate” armed groups from hardline extremists like Al Nusra — an Al Qaeda offshoot that also held much sway in the area. This approach was taken at the time as an alternative to a full-fledged offensive by the Syrian Army. Yet, over the past years, none of the commitments Turkey undertook were effectively fulfilled.