Groups of pro-Syrian government 'civilian-looking groups' approached multiple observation posts maintained by Turkey in Syria's Idlib and attacked one of them, the Turkish Defence Ministry has announced via Twitter.
"Civilian-looking groups directed by the Assad regime approached observation posts 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 in the Idlib de-escalation zone and attacked observation post 7, dispersing after measures were taken," the MoD wrote.
İdlib gerginliği azaltma bölgesindeki 3,4,5,6,7,8 ve 9 numaralı gözlem noktalarımıza Esed rejimi tarafından yönlendirilen sivil görünümlü bazı gruplar yaklaşmış, 7 numaralı gözlem noktamıza saldırıda bulunmuş, alınan tedbirler sonrasında dağılmışlardır.— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) September 16, 2020
The defence ministry did not specify what "measures" were taken. No damage to the observation post was reported.
Photos taken by a Sputnik Arabic correspondent at the scene outside one of the posts show demonstrators gathering, with some hoisting Syrian and Palestinian flags and portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad at the post's large black gate.
Earlier, unauthenticated footage purportedly taken from one of the protests showed demonstrators gathered outside one of the posts, shouting at Turkish forces on the other side of the barrier near the village of Sarman, southern Idlib. A second video shows protesters being dispersed with tear gas.
📹One more footage demonstrates civilians protest against the #Turkey in front of one of #Turkish posts in #Idlib province pic.twitter.com/ECmwvy7C8D— SMM Syria (@smmsyria) September 16, 2020
Earlier Wednesday, an informed source told Sputnik that Russian and Turkish officials had discussed the prospect of reducing the number of Turkish observation posts and Turkish troops in Idlib province, including a possible pullout of heavy weaponry. The source clarified that "no consensus has been reached on the matter".
Turkey has a dozen official observation posts dotting the area of Idlib province and a portion of Aleppo province which remain out of the control of the Syrian government, with two dozen 'unofficial' observation posts also reported to be operating. Ankara established the posts in October 2017 in accordance with agreements signed with Moscow and Tehran aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, and has promised to separate moderate rebels from jihadists.
Control of Idlib is split between a variety of factions, including pro-Turkish anti-Assad rebels and the remnants of jihadist militias, who fled to the province as Syrian forces backed by Russian air power, advisors from Iran, and units from Lebanon's Hezbollah militia began taking back wide areas of Syrian territory between 2015 and 2018. The province is presently believed to contain tens of thousands of militants.
Tensions in Idlib escalated in late 2019, after Syrian Army forces began operations to clear terrorist units out of some of their strongholds in response to the constant shelling of its positions. During the offensive, Syrian units advanced near and encircled some of Turkey's observation posts, and major clashes broke out between Syrian and Turkish forces in February, claiming the lives of over 1,400 Syrian troops, 73 Turkish soldiers, and nearly 1,500 Turkish-allied fighters. The fighting was halted in March, with a ceasefire agreed to and Russia and Turkey launching joint military patrols in the area aimed at deescalating tensions. Multiple violations of the ceasefire have been reported by both sides since that time.
Damascus has repeatedly called on all foreign forces operating on Syria territory without an invitation from the government to leave, and has vowed to one day return all Syrian lands presently under the control of Turkish and Turkish-backed forces, the United States, Israel, and jihadist militants.