Jumat, 28 Februari 2020

Russia denies responsibility for attack in northern Syria that killed 33 Turkish soldiers - The Washington Post

Aref Tammawi AFP/Getty Images Turkish troops patrol in the town of Atareb in the rebel-held western countryside of Syria's Aleppo province on Feb. 19.

MOSCOW — Russian military officials denied responsibility for an airstrike in northern Syria that killed dozens of Turkish troops, as the risk of a major military confrontation between Russia and Turkey in the region escalated sharply.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement Friday stating that no Russian jets had been operating in the area of the strike in Idlib province Thursday.

“Aircraft of the Russian Air Force did not engage in combat in the Behun vicinity,” the ministry said.

Gov. Rahmi Dogan of Hatay province in Turkey, announced that 33 soldiers were killed. Dozens more were wounded.

The Russian statement said it had warned Syria to cease the attacks on anti-regime fighters in the Behun region when it became aware of the Turkish casualties.

“As soon as the information about Turkish casualties was received, the Russian side took comprehensive measures to fully stop the firing by the Syrian forces and to ensure safe evacuation of the dead and injured Turkish servicemen to the Turkish territory,” the ministry said.

The Defense Ministry statement added that Turkey’s military had not provided Russia with the geolocation of its forces in Behun.

“At the same time, according to the coordinates provided by the Turkish side to the Russian Center for Reconciliation, there were no — and should not have been any — units of the Turkish armed forces in the area of Behun,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement said.

[Syrian airstrike kills Turkish soldiers in Idlib, Turkish official says]

Turkey convened an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors on Friday morning, stopping short of an attempt to invoke the alliance’s all-for-one, one-for-all mutual defense pact but still drawing the group into the increasingly tense situation.

Under NATO’s founding treaty, any member can request consultations if it believes its security is under threat. It is only the sixth time in NATO’s 71-year history that a member has done so.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke Thursday night to Turkish Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu. NATO said in a statement that “Stoltenberg condemned the continued indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib province.”

Turkey has deployed thousands of troops in Syria to prevent the forces of President Bashar al-Assad from defeating anti-regime militias in Idlib. In recent days, Russian officials have repeatedly accused Turkey of breaching a 2018 cease-fire deal and accused it of using artillery strikes and attack drones to defend anti-regime militias, whom it designates as terrorists. Idlib province is largely controlled by an extremist group that once had ties with al-Qaeda.

Tensions in the region have escalated sharply as Russian-backed Syrian forces have advanced into Idlib, the last opposition stronghold, infuriating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey who fears that refugees fleeing the Syrian advance could spill across the border.

Erdogan has threatened to escalate military attacks on Syria if its forces do not retreat. Talks between Moscow and Ankara to resolve the crisis have failed to produce a solution.

The Syrian advance has caused a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians have fled their homes heading toward Turkey, many of them lacking adequate shelter.

Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, with Russia supporting Assad’s regime and Turkey supporting anti-regime forces. The conflict has put increasing strain on the close relationship between Putin and Erdogan.

Russia, which has two crucial military bases in Syria, has carried out airstrikes to aid the Syrian advance and provided Assad’s forces with other military support.

A senior Turkish official announced Friday that Turkey would open its borders to allow Syrian refugees to freely spill into Europe, Reuters reported Friday, without naming the official.

“All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union,” the official said.

Russian State Duma Defense Committee deputy chairman Yury Shvytkin accused Turkey of aggression against Syria and flagrant support for terrorists.

“We will continue our effort to fight militants and terrorists together with al-Assad,” Shvytkin told Interfax news, adding that it would be “inadmissible” for NATO to intervene.

Michael Birnbaum in Stockholm contributed to this report.

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Syrian airstrike kills Turkish soldiers in Idlib, Turkish official says

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2020-02-28 10:48:00Z

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