Tension is on the rise between Turkey and Syria in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib as Russia is trying to defuse the tense situation.
It's no secret that the Russian-backed Syrian army has become fed up with waiting for Turkey to live up to its pledges made in 2018 when Ankara and Moscow agreed that Turkey will disarm the radical rebels in Idlib and push them to fall back from a strategic highway connecting Damascus in the south with Aleppo in the north.
Over the past two months, the Syrian army launched a wide-scale offensive in the southern and eastern countryside of Idlib as well as in the southern countryside of Aleppo in a bid to open the road.
In the process, the army besieged some of the Turkish observation points that were set up in rebel-held areas to observe the short-lived de-escalation zone deal that was also agreed upon between Russia and Turkey.
However, the current military progress by the Syrian army didn't seem to resonate with Turkey, which made a threat a week ago, saying the Syrian army must withdraw from areas near Turkish points.
Over the past week, Turkey sent hundreds of military vehicles and troops into Idlib province.
On Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkey has sent 6,000 soldiers and 1,400 military vehicles to the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib over the past few days.
It said that that intense Turkish shelling started against government forces' positions in Idlib to foil the progress of the Syrian army, adding that the Syrian forces have only 2 km to retake the Damascus-Aleppo highway but a Turkish point in the Rashdeen area in Aleppo hindered such progress.
The Britain-based watchdog group said the Syrian army shelled the Taftanaz air base in Idlib, killing five Turkish soldiers.
Other activists said the Turkey-backed rebels, who are largely fighters with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, received an order to put the military offensive against the Syrian army on hold until Russian-Turkish talks in Ankara come to an end.
Earlier in the day, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Russian delegation returned to Turkey on Monday for further talks over rising tensions in Idlib province, after an initial round last week failed to yield results.
Haitham Hassoun, a Syrian military expert and a retired brigadier, told Xinhua that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may opt to escalate the situation in Idlib because "the Syrian military progress is threatening the Turkish interests in that region as Turkey-backed rebels are losing ground and Turkish military points are also besieged."
Hassoun said Turkey is feeling that it's losing in Syria, noting that "the Turkish side failed to live up to the pledges made in Sochi in 2018 and as a result, the Syrian army is moving forward because it cannot allow for the ultra-radical rebels to be in control of the highway or any other part of Syria."
"The Turkish forces in Syria are forces of occupation... how could Turkey tell the Syrian army where to be or not be... this is aggression and encroachment upon Syria's sovereignty," he said.
He further said that the Turkish failure in implementing the Sochi agreement has rendered this agreement flat.
Bassam Abu Abdullah, a political science lecturer, told Xinhua that the Turkish forces in Syria are still supporting the ultra-radical rebels and have been doing so in Idlib in particular over the past 18 months.
He said that the Turkish reinforcement and observation points aim to throttle the progress of the Syrian army.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)