Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkish troops will not quit a military observation post in northwestern Syria where they are surrounded by government forces.
“We are there, not because we can’t leave but because we don’t want to leave,” he told a news conference in Lebanon, denying that Turkish troops had been “cut off” by a government advance into the jihadist-ruled Idlib region.
Earlier, Syrian regime forces overran a string of towns and villages in the north of Hama province, including the town of Morek, where the Turkish observation post is located, Syria’s state news agency SANA said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that “regime forces have surrounded the Turkish observation post in Morek” after the advance.
Cavusoglu acknowledged that “there are clashes in the Idlib region”.
“Regime forces are conducting activities around our observation post,” he said , adding that the issue was being discussed with Damascus allies Russia and Iran.
But “our observation point there is not cut-off and nobody can isolate our forces and our soldiers,” he added.
Besieged Turkish soldiers are observing Assad forces near Morek. pic.twitter.com/E2N38mx61y
— Ali Özkök (@Ozkok_A) August 23, 2019
In the background of TSK Morek pic.twitter.com/4DnqCoJop4
— Y.N.M.S (@nm79797979) August 23, 2019
Rebel-backer Turkey has carried out two cross-border offensives into Syria, where its forces have been deployed for nearly two years.
The observation post in Morek is one of 12 the Turkish army set up along the front line between government forces and the jihadists and their rebel allies last year.
The troops’ mission was to oversee the establishment of a buffer zone agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September.
But the jihadists failed to pull back from the zone as agreed and in April, government and Russian forces resumed intense bombardment of the region.
“The regime’s forces have deployed in Morek and throughout the northern part of Hama province, without attacking the observation post,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“For the (Turkish) soldiers there is no way out” except through territories now held by the regime and its Russian ally, according to the Observatory.