Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday told his party's lawmakers it is "only a matter of time" before he launches a new military intervention in neighboring Syria's Idlib province if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not withdraw his forces from the area.
"An operation in Idlib is imminent," Erdogan said. "We are counting down; we are making our final warnings. ... We will not leave Idlib to the [Syrian] regime, which does not understand our country's determination." His goal, he announced, is to secure the region near the Turkish-Syrian border "at any cost."
The statement received prompt pushback from Russia, an Assad ally. "If we are talking about an operation against the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Republic and armed forces of the Syrian Republic this would, of course, be the worst scenario," said Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. Moscow and Ankara are in contact in hopes of preventing escalation, Peskov added.
About 900,000 people, including 500,000 children, have been displaced in the last three months as the Assad regime ramped up fighting in the Idlib area. Syria has dealt with civil war, foreign military intervention, terrorist insurgency, and a severe refugee crisis since 2011.
Humanitarian organizations have called for de-escalation in Idlib, especially given the winter weather. "Children and families are caught between the violence, the biting cold, the lack of food, and the desperate living conditions," said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF. "It is time for the guns to go silent and for the violence to stop once and for all."