Situation in Syria destabilizing amid missile strikes, Ankara threats

BY APD NEWSFeb 14,2020 at 17:40

Syrian air defenses downed several missiles coming across the occupied Golan Heights from Israel before they hit their targets in the capital Damascus, Syrian state television said on Thursday. 

Separately on the same day, in an apparent response to Russian criticism, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey will use force against those violating a ceasefire in Syria's northwest Idlib region.

Missiles intercepted by air defenses from Israel 

"The hostile missiles came from the occupied Golan ... and they were downed before they reached their targets," an army statement said. 

Sounds of explosions reverberated across the capital city overnight before the official report said the air defenses were triggered by a missile attack. Videos on social media purportedly showed explosions in mid-air, lighting up the night as Syrian anti-aircraft missiles burst in the sky. 

The last Israeli attack was carried out on February 6, during which some military sites in the western countryside of Damascus were hit. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 pro-Iran fighters were killed in the attack. 

Israel, which considers Iran as its biggest threat, has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets and those of allied militia, including Lebanon's Hezbollah. In 2019 alone, more than 17 Israeli attacks took place against targets in Syria. 

Being a close ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran is growing its influence in Syria. The two countries have struck economic and trade deals, which have deepened the concerns of Israel, and in the last few years, raised the prospect of a military confrontation. 

Israel has long maintained that it will not tolerate Iran's efforts of establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and promised that steps will be taken to obstruct such entrenchment. 

However Iran also made clear that it is ready to strike Israel and the United States if they make "the slightest error," the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said in a live speech on state television on Thursday. 

Turkish military vehicles are seen in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020. /Reuters Photo

Turkey promises force against violation of Idlib ceasefire 

After 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian government forces in just over a week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his NATO-member military would strike Russia-backed Syrian forces if another Turkish soldier was hurt, and he blamed Moscow for targeting civilians. 

Turkey has poured in the last few days thousands of troops and convoys of military vehicles across the border into Idlib, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and radar equipment in order to bolster its 12 observation posts. 

Russia, which supports Assad, in turn accused Turkey of flouting agreements it made with Moscow and of aggravating the situation in Idlib. The Kremlin said Ankara had failed to neutralize militants there, as per a 2018 agreement to establish a de-escalation zone. 

Apparently responding to the Russian criticism, Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar said Turkey was sending reinforcements to Idlib to ensure a ceasefire is maintained and to "control" the area, according to a ministry statement.

"Force will be used against those violating the ceasefire, including radicals, and every measure will be taken," Akar said, referring to a January 12 ceasefire Ankara says has been violated by Assad's forces.

The flare-up of fighting has given rise to some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus in the nine-year-old war that, since early December in Idlib alone, has displaced hundreds of thousands.


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