Turkey's military has dispatched thousands of additional troops to opposition-held northwestern Syria ahead of a critical meeting with Russian and Iranian leaders next week, a report said Thursday.
While officials did not speak of a new cross-border operation, they have consistently highlighted that Turkey cannot handle a new refugee wave as Russia-backed Assad regime forces step up attacks against Idlib, Bloomberg reported.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to discuss the issue of Idlib with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sept. 29, the report cited anonymous officials as saying.
They noted that the additional troops would help deter regime forces from making advances in the opposition bastion and control roads leading to the Turkish border.
Earlier in September, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited the Turkey-Syria border, where he said the country cannot “tolerate a new wave of refugees” and that Turkey would strive to prevent migration by ensuring safety and stability in the region.
Idlib falls within a de-escalation zone forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia in March 2020.
The Syrian regime, however, has consistently violated the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the de-escalation zone.
The Idlib region is home to nearly 3 million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country.
Nearly 75% of the total population in northwestern Syria's opposition-held Idlib region depends on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs as 1.6 million people continue to live in camps or informal settlements, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Turkish officials and charities have been increasing efforts to build safe living spaces for displaced Syrians.
Most of the displaced people sought shelter at camps close to the border with Turkey, while others went to areas under the control of the Syrian opposition.
Still, due to overcrowding and the lack of essential infrastructure in refugee camps, displaced civilians face great difficulty in finding places to take shelter. Thousands of families are in dire need of humanitarian aid as they struggle to live amid harsh conditions.
Since April 2018, attacks on Idlib, the last opposition stronghold, have dramatically intensified, causing new waves of refugees to flow toward the Turkish border and putting the country – which already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees – in a difficult position.
As a result, Turkey, which has the second-largest army in the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance, has funneled troops and equipment into the region in recent weeks to stop the Syrian regime’s advance and hoping to avoid another wave of refugees.
Turkish soldiers are currently stationed in the region to protect the local population and support counterterrorism groups. Despite the military escalation, Ankara has also been trying to keep diplomatic channels active with Russia in hope of finding a political solution, urging the country to uphold the peace agreements and ensure an immediate cease-fire.
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