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Targeting of Turkish presence escalates in northern Syria

Turkish forces while establishing a new military post for the Turkish army in Termaneen town, northern Idlib - 15 February 2020 (Enab Baladi)

Turkish forces while establishing a new military post for the Turkish army in Termaneen town, northern Idlib - 15 February 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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The targeting of Turkish presence in northwestern Syria escalated during the last few days and extended to include civilian parties, after a series of operations that targeted Turkish military forces.

On 16 September, the Turkish Ministry of Defense declared the newest targeting of its observation point in Morek town of northern Hama countryside and accused elements of the Syrian regime’s forces of standing behind it.

The recent targeting was preceded by another attack by unidentified group on 14 September against the Turkish “Red Crescent” staff in the al-Bab city of eastern Aleppo countryside, killing one of its members and injuring two others.

Using “Twitter,” the Turkish “Red Crescent” organization condemned the attack and denounced the targeting of its vehicle despite having a clear logo for the organization on it.

Unidentified groups claim responsibility for the attacks

A group calling itself the “Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Squadron” claimed responsibility for the attack through its “Telegram” account. The group announced that it caused casualties and injuries among the Turks in Syria.

The attack coincided with an announcement by the “Khattab al-Shishani Brigades,” claiming responsibility for targeting a joint Russian-Turkish patrol on the international highway “M4,” injuring three Russian soldiers.

Another attack by a group under the name the “Afrin Liberation Forces (HRE)” targeted a Turkish observation point in the al-Ghazawiyah of Afrin city, northwestern Aleppo.

On 6 September, unidentified people targeted Turkish soldiers while they were in front of a store, outside their military posts in Mutaram town near Ariha town south of Idlib province, according to what Enab Baladi‘s correspondent reported from the area. Nevertheless, the targeting operation was not adopted by any side, and Turkey’s Ministry of Defense did not comment on the attack incident.

On 27 August, a Turkish military post was directly targeted by a motorcycle bomb in Marj al-Zohour in the countryside of Jisr al-Shughur area; however, the elements positioned at the observation point detonated the bomb before the motorcycle could arrive.

While on 17 August, the “Khattab al-Shishani Brigades” claimed responsibility for targeting a military column vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). This military column was the first patrol to go in the opposite direction of the other patrols (from Ain al-Hawr village in the southwestern countryside of Idlib to Trinbeh village in the eastern Idlib countryside).

The final targeting adopted by the “Khattab al-Shishani Brigades” was eight days later, on 25 August, after attacking a joint patrol on the international road.

Who benefits from these attacks?

Turkey did not hold any side responsible for the attack on the “Red Crescent” staff in northern Syria, unlike to when it pointed fingers at the Syrian regime’s forces in the final targeting of its observation post.

For his part, the President of the “Turkish Red Crescent” organization, Kerem Kinik, said in a statement to the Turkish “24 TV” channel that “the attack, although no side has claimed responsibility for, is a planned terrorist act, that shows dimensions of treason.”

Kinik added that to know why the organization’s vehicle was targeted, the perpetrator should be known first, and that is why the organization wants to know the identity of the attacker.

Kinik wished on the Turkish government, the competent authorities, and the international organizations to find an answer to the question of who stands behind the attack.

In the interview, Kinik confirmed that the attack was clearly planned for, as the targeted vehicle was carrying the “Turkish Red Crescent” organization’s logo, indicating that it is a humanitarian aid vehicle. Besides, the three staff members on the vehicle were wearing vests with the organization’s logo on them.

The expert in military and strategic affairs, Colonel Ismail Ayoub, said to Enab Baladi that “Turkey’s enemies in the region became numerous” within the increasing escalation, both political and military, between Turkey and Greece, Turkey and France, Turkey and the United States (US).

Ayoub also referred to the intense situation between Turkey, Russia, the Syrian regime, and the “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)” affiliated to the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES)” operating in northeastern Syria, and the relationship between Turkey and the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK,)” that is classified as a “terrorist” party in the international lists of terrorism.

Colonel Ayoub added that all events that Turkey is involved in are considered causes or justifications for attacking Turkish interests, whether military or political, noting that the recent attack on Turkey’s “Red Crescent” is also an escalation against Turkey.

What are the reasons behind the targeting operations?

The military and strategic affairs expert, Colonel Ayoub said that “it is normal for any Turkish targets in Syria or Turkey to be attacked due to the activity of the PKK and the US-backed SDF, in addition to the Syrian regime’s intelligence, the so-called “Islamic State” elements, and the extremists.

The colonel believes that influential countries stand behind the military escalation against Turkey in Syria, like Russia or France, and that this may be related to the latest escalation between France and Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea.

In one way or another, Ayoub added the escalation against Turkey’s presence in Syria is supported by world intelligence services against Turkish interests in northern Syria.

According to Ayoub, the recent targeting operations in Idlib on Turkish military posts were carried by the Syrian regime intelligence and its affiliated security elements in the area. He added targeting civilian bodies like the Turkish “Red Crescent,” and others come in the context of striking a blowing hit to Turkey.

As for the military analyst, Brigadier general Abdullah al-Asaad, the reasons behind targeting the Turks by unidentified people involves Russian and Iranian participation besides Arab countries to pressure Turkey for its presence in Libya and for facing Egypt represented in its president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and standing against Russia.

In addition, the tension between Turkey and Greece due to the eastern Mediterranean issue is another reason for targeting Turkey, according to al-Asaad.

Regarding the targeting of the Turkish “Red Crescent” staff members, al-Asaad said to Enab Baladi that the attack on the Turkish presence in Syria was not limited to military points by the Syrian regime’s arms and the SDF, which consider Turkey and the “Syrian National Army (SNA)” as their common enemy.

Al-Asaad added that the latest targeting was aimed to pressure the internally displaced people (IDPs), as they wanted to deprive the Syrians in the camps from the support of the humanitarian civil organizations operating in northern Syrian areas.

These attacks come amid the absence of a clear formula of understanding between Moscow and Ankara concerning the military operations and the ceasefire in Idlib.

The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on Russian sources that Moscow tried to persuade Ankara to reduce its military presence in Idlib, withdraw heavy weapons, and remove some of its observation posts in the area.

In an interview with the Turkish channel “CNN,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted that Idlib’s political process could end if his country did not reach an agreement with Russia, as he spoke about the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean issue and the Arab region.

In the same interview, Cavusoglu said that the meetings were not “very productive,” commenting on the meeting between Russian and Turkish military experts in Ankara on 16 September.

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