Turkey will know no bounds in retaliation against Assad, VP Oktay says

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Vice President Fuat Oktay on Saturday reiterated Turkey's readiness to retaliate against any attacks on its forces in Syria.

"The (Bashar Assad) regime must know this: if our military will continue to be attacked, Turkey will know no bounds (in its retaliation). This message was clearly conveyed to Russia," Oktay said.

He also said Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib in line with its de-escalation agreements with Russia and Iran.

Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, agreed in 2018 to set up a de-escalation zone in the region. But a Syrian regime offensive has disrupted Ankara and Moscow's cooperation, after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian attacks in the past two weeks.

Ankara has said it will use military power to drive back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of February. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to strike Assad regime forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt.

Russia, which backs Bashar Assad, says Turkey has flouted deals it made with Moscow and aggravated the situation in Idlib. The Kremlin said Ankara had failed to neutralize militants there.

Oktay said Turkey was determined to stop regime advances in Idlib.

"We cannot overlook the cruelty happening in our neighbor," Oktay said, adding that Turkey, which hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, cannot handle a new migrant wave from Idlib where hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

"Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in Idlib. Some of our observation posts have now fallen into areas controlled by the (Syrian) regime," he said, referring to Turkey's military observation posts established in Idlib under the 2018 deal.

In an apparent response to Russia's criticism on Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would use force against rebel groups violating a Jan. 12 ceasefire in Idlib and said Ankara was sending reinforcements to control Idlib.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Saturday a Turkish diplomatic and military delegation will travel to Moscow on Monday to discuss Idlib with Russian counterparts.

"Turkey is working to maintain diplomacy regarding Idlib but regime continues its attacks," Çavuşoğlu said.

He added that necessary steps will be taken if diplomatic channels will fail after the Turkish delegation's visit to Moscow.

Çavuşoğlu will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday during the Munich Security Conference, the Interfax news agency reported.

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