Turkey will no longer prevent Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, a senior Turkish official said, as Ankara responded to the murder of 33 Turkish soldiers in an air strike by Syrian government forces in the northern region on Friday -West of Idlib Syria.
President Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency meeting on the attack on Ankara overnight, while Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and commanders of Turkish forces directed operations in Syria at the Turkish border, announced l national press agency Anadolu.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military equipment to Syria and Erdogan has warned that Turkey will launch a large-scale offensive to repel Syrian forces unless they withdraw from Turkish observation posts in the region .
The murder of 33 Turkish soldiers and 32 wounded, announced by the governor of the Turkish province of Hatay, on the border with Syria, brought the number of Turkish military deaths in the region to 54.
Turkey’s director of communications Fahrettin Altun said in retaliation for “all-known” targets from the Syrian government were fired by Turkish air and ground support units.
The details of the reprisals were not immediately clear.
Nearly a million civilians have been displaced near the Turkish border since December as Russian-backed Syrian government forces seized the territory of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, marking the worst humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war .
The humanitarian situation in Idlib continues to deteriorate.
Nearly 950,000 people have now been displaced in northwestern Syria since December 1, 2019. pic.twitter.com/arBTeFZHXL
– UNHCR, United Nations Refugee Agency (@Refugees) February 27, 2020
In anticipation of the imminent arrival of refugees from Idlib, Turkish police, coast guards and border security officials have been ordered to withdraw from the land and sea crossings of refugees to Europe, told Reuters the Turkish official.
“We decided, in effect, immediately, not to prevent Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to enter the European Union.”
The threat of paving the way for refugees to Europe would cancel, if carried out, the commitment made by Turkey to the European Union in 2016 and could quickly draw the Western powers into a deadlock on Idlib and block the negotiations between Ankara and Moscow.
The burden of hosting refugees “is too heavy for a single country,” said the official.
Turkey hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees and reiterated that it could not handle more. Under the 2016 agreement, the European Union provided billions of euros in aid in exchange for Ankara agreeing to curb the influx of migrants to Europe.
Hatay Governor Rahmi Dogan said that none of the Turkish troops injured in Thursday’s air attack were in critical condition.
The US State Department has said that the United States is very concerned about the reported attack on Turkish soldiers.
“We support our NATO ally, Turkey, and continue to call for an immediate end to this vile offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces,” said a representative from the Department of ‘State in a press release.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” over the escalation in northwestern Syria and said Turkish soldiers had been killed.
Erdogan and US President Donald Trump may hold a phone call to discuss Idlib after the attack on Turkish soldiers, two Turkish officials told Reuters.
The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by incessant Russian airstrikes, have insisted strongly in recent months to retake the last large rebel-held region in northwestern Syria.
Turkey has sent troops to support the rebels it supports against the offensive.
The war in Syria has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
On Thursday, as fighting raged on several fronts, the United Nations said it had “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences, with at least 134 civilians, including 44 children, killed in February, and schools and hospitals destroyed.
Seven children were among 11 people killed in an air strike that hit a school in northern Idlib on Tuesday, according to the United Nations.
Turkey has urged Europe to do more to alleviate the crisis in Idlib, and Erdogan said last year that his government could “open the doors” to migrants in Europe if it did not react.
The 2016 EU-Turkey agreement aimed to end the chaotic arrival of migrants and refugees, most of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, after more ” one million people arrived in Europe in 2015.
Under the terms of the agreement, migrants and refugees who illegally cross the Aegean Sea are returned to Turkey. But Ankara said that funding for Europe is slow to materialize and paltry compared to the $ 40 billion it has spent.
Turkish and Russian officials held a third round of talks in Ankara on Thursday. Two previous cycles have not resulted in a ceasefire agreement.
Earlier on Thursday, Russian state television said that Turkish military specialists were using shoulder missiles to try to kill Russian and Syrian military aircraft over Idlib.
In Washington, the Pentagon said Thursday that US Defense Secretary Mark Esper had spoken to his Turkish counterpart and that they had discussed Idlib and Libya.
“We are exploring ways for the United States to work with Turkey and the international community,” the Pentagon said during the call.