The situation on the ground in Idlelb province and the northern and western Hama countrysides has taken on a new course, manifested by Assad’s forces bombing Turkish observation points with artillery and mortars. This latest development follows a failure to achieve any military advances on the ground despite major Russian support offered to them by way of warplanes, advisers, and experts who are working behind the front lines.
The latest strikes were recorded on Jun. 16, 2019, with a bombardment hitting the Turkish observation point in Murak in the northern Hama countryside, with previous strikes on the Shir al-Maghar point in Jabel Shahshabou in the western Hama countryside, which wounded Turkish soldiers and caused material damage, as documented in images published by activists from the Hama countryside on social media.
There was no difference between the strikes in Murak and Shir al-Maghar except in one respect: The first strike came after Turkish threats from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, when he said two days ago that their country would respond forcefully if the bombardment continues. The Syrian regime paid no heed to this matter, and threw out the window all the understandings with regards to the area stipulated in the Sochi agreement, signed in September 2018.
The Assad regime has not declared any of its strikes on the observation points, and Russia has not commented on the matter, except by claiming that “terrorists” had carried out the attack—coinciding with the announcement of a truce stipulating a total ceasefire on the military fronts which was, however, not implemented, with military escalations continuing as warplanes hit the villages and areas of the southern Idleb countryside.
The Turkish army has deployed 12 observation points in Idleb province, in accordance with the Astana agreement and has reinforced them with machinery and troops over the last few months. The Shir al-Maghar and Murak points are considered to be the most prominent because they are close to the battle lines in the northern and western Hama countrysides.
Observation points an obstacle to the regime and Russian campaign
The colonel and military analyst Ahmed Hamadeh said that the bombardment of the Turkish observation points is an attempt by Russia and the Syrian regime to force the Turks to withdraw from the observation points, because so far they have proved to be an obstacle to the regime’s invasion of northern Syria.
The analyst added that Russia is talking to Turkey diplomatically with regards to the agreement and truce, with an eye on Turkish forces pulling out of the area so it can take control on the ground and enable the Assad regime to move into all the areas outside its control.
From another perspective, the Turkish journalist and analyst Hamze Tekin said that the bombardment of the observation points by the Assad regime could be an attempt by Russia to test the credibility of Erdogan’s statements and to solidify the Turkish position, but the, “answer came immediately with Turkey’s swift response and the volume and quality of weapons.”
On Sunday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Twitter that its ninth observation point in Idleb (Murak) was hit by what could be evaluated to be intentional bombardment by Syrian regime forces in the Tel Bazan area with artillery and mortars.
The Turkish ministry added that it had “responded to the source of the fire” without giving details of the incident in terms of losses.
The Turkish analyst predicted that the regime bombardment of the observation points could be an attempt to “feel the pulse” and test the credibility of Erdogan’s threats to respond.
These developments are considered to be an indication of the escalating severity of the tension between the Russians and Turks, which could continue to rise in the coming days if the bombardment of Turkish observation points continues.
Will Turkey withdraw from the observation points?
According to the Turkish analyst, Turkey wants to stay in the Sochi agreement, and therefore defend Idleb province from any land operation that Russia, Iran and the regime could be considering, adding that: “Turkey is in favor of diplomatic solutions, but if they are not serious, the response will be with artillery and aircraft. Turkey has no choice in that.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.