Al-Monitor | : Ankara’s defiant reaction to the Syrian army’s advances in the northwestern province of Idlib has led the Syrian crisis toward one of its most critical phases in the past several years, pushing Ankara and Damascus to the verge of a full-scale war.
The latest round of escalation began Feb. 27, when at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian military airstrike in a rebel-held area of Idlib province. While Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian government of deliberately targeting Turkish soldiers “despite warnings,” Assad’s ally Russia claimed the Turkish forces were “in the battle formations of terrorist groups.” However, the Syrian government’s other major ally, Iran, showed a rather neutral reaction, stressing the need to immediately “manage and calm the current tense situation.” The Iranian Foreign Ministry also called for holding a new Iranian-Russian-Turkish summit within the framework of the Astana process.
Nonetheless, the situation became even more complex when the Turkish military’s retaliatory operation against the Syrian army positions led to the death of several Iran-backed forces in Syria’s northwest, along with the Syrian soldiers. According to the reports published in the Iranian media, at least four fighters affiliated with Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as 21 members of Fatemiyoun and Zainebiyoun brigades — which consist of Afghan and Pakistani Shiite forces supported by the Islamic Republic — were killed in the Turkish strikes. Hours after the strikes on Feb. 29, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held a phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which the Iranian side called for resolving the Idlib issue through dialogue. Rouhani also once again proposed hosting the Turkish and Russian presidents for a new Astana summit to discuss the ongoing crisis.
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