ANKARA -- Turkey’s president has accused Russia of committing “massacres” in its support of the Syrian regime, while almost 800,000 people have been displaced since December due to the increased violence and bombardments.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday (February 12) threatened to strike Syrian regime forces “everywhere” if Turkey’s soldiers come under renewed attack, while the United Nations (UN) Thursday (February 13) updated the grim numbers.
Turkey has beefed up its positions in recent days in Idlib -- the last rebel bastion in Syria -- with hundreds of vehicles carrying artillery and soldiers arriving in the town of Binnish since last Friday, an AFP correspondent said.
Turkish officials say they have lost 14 soldiers in the past nine days and claim to have killed scores of Syrian regime troops as they try to push back forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian forces backed by Russian air strikes have pressed ahead with an offensive to retake Idlib from rebel groups that began in December, despite a 2018 deal reached by Turkey and Russia in Sochi.
The offensive -- which has retaken numerous towns and a crucial motorway -- has killed hundreds of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for safety in harsh winter conditions.
Erdogan's direct criticism of Russia is a rare move.
"The regime, backed by Russian forces and Iran-backed militants, is continuously attacking civilians, committing massacres and shedding blood," Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in parliament.
800,000 people displaced
Russia-backed regime offensive on the last major rebel bastion in northwestern Syria has displaced close to 800,000 people since December, the UN said Thursday.
"Of the more than 800,000 people who have been displaced in northwest Syria from 1 December 2019 to 12 February 2020, some 60 percent are estimated to be children," said the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA.
Russian and regime bombardment on the last major rebel enclave in Syria killed 29 civilians in a day, a monitor said Monday, as the regime's inexorable northward push raises tensions with Turkey.
Six children were among nine civilians killed early Monday in raids on the village of Abin Semaan, in Aleppo Province, where Russian-backed regime forces have been waging a fierce offensive to retake a key highway, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It followed a night of heavy bombardment by Russia and the regime that left at least 20 civilians dead in the neighbouring provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, according to the Observatory.
Since December, Syrian government forces backed by Moscow have pressed a blistering assault against the Idlib region and have recaptured town after town.
The Kremlin's deadly operations aimed at expanding its territorial occupation of Syria have met fierce and angry resistance from locals.
In one of the most intense signs of growing unrest, a video posted on social media in mid-November showed Syrians hurling Molotov cocktails and rocks at Russian military vehicles patrolling areas the Kremlin is attempting to occupy.