Erdogan warns won't step back in Idlib as UN says 948,000 displaced

Beirut/Istanbul - By Anindita Ramaswamy and Weedah Hamzah, - Turkey will push back Syrian government forces in Idlib, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday, as the UN said more than 948,000 people have been displaced in north-western Syria since December.
"Time's almost up," Erdogan said, demanding a stop to attacks by Syrian troops on Turkish observation posts in Idlib, the last opposition stronghold.

"We plan to free our beseiged observation towers, one way or another, by the end of this month," he told a meeting of his ruling party in parliament, reiterating a threat to Damascus to retreat.
Several of Ankara's observation posts - set up as part of an agreement with Moscow - are now behind Syrian government lines as the army advances with the support of Russian airpower.
While Ankara has been strengthening its posts and sending troops and military hardware into Idlib, which shares a border with southern Turkey, Erdogan also said diplomatic channels were being used to their full extent.
A Russian delegation was due in Turkey later Wednesday, but two recent meetings between the two sides failed to produce results.
Russia insisted that it expected a positive outcome from the meeting. "We are looking forward to good results," Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in comments carried by state media.
Erdogan warned that Turkey "will not take the smallest step back in Idlib," adding that it will push back Syrian forces and ensure the return of the people to their homes.
Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tweeted that close to 950,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since December 1. "That's nearly 180,000 families, more than 195,000 women and more than 560,000 children." 
The UN Security Council is due to meet Wednesday on the situation in north-western Syria.
The spike in the number of displaced people has triggered warnings from several humanitarian agencies and countries. The foreign ministers of 14 European Union countries called for a halt to the fighting in Idlib.
In late April, the Syrian government and allied Russians launched a large-scale campaign to seize the region from rebels.
Russia and Turkey brokered the latest ceasefire in the region in January. The truce collapsed in the face of Syrian advances in the province.
"We are trying in every way to prevent a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria, especially in Idlib, including active intervention in the field," Erdogan said.
"At the moment our biggest problem is that we cannot use [Syrian] airspace. God willing we will soon find a solution." Russia has control over the airspace.


Wednesday, February 26th 2020
By Anindita Ramaswamy and Weedah Hamzah,

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