Syrian government forces have completed clearing mines and explosives in the strategic crossroads city of Saraqib in the country’s embattled northwestern province of Idlib, as they continue to tighten the noose around foreign-backed Takfiri terrorists in their last major stronghold.
Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Saturday that army troops and allied fighters from popular defense groups defused mines and improvised explosive devices in the city, situated 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) east of Idlib city, and efforts are underway to return it to normal life.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a report, corroborated by witnesses, on Thursday that Syrian troops had marched through Saraqib following intense battles with militants.
Syrian army liberates two villages in eastern countryside of Idlib
Also on Saturday, Syrian army soldiers and their allies managed to assert control over two villages in the eastern countryside of Idlib province.
SANA reported that Syrian forces managed to capture the villages of Maharem and Tell Karatine following clashes with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front) terrorists and their affiliates.
Army liberates Maharim and Tal Karatin villages in Idleb countrysidehttps://t.co/ERdRG4Mmlg— SANAEnglishOfficial (@SANAEnOfficial) February 7, 2020
The report added that Syrian government troops inflicted heavy losses on the militants’ lines of defense and forced them to retreat from their positions in the region.
Turkey threatens to strike back if outposts in Idlib hit
Meanwhile, Turkey threatened on Saturday to strike back if its military outposts in Syria’s Idlib province come under attack.
“Our observation posts in Idlib continue their duties and are capable of protecting themselves with the weapons and equipment they possess,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a post published on its official Twitter page.
It added, “In the event of a new attack, a proper response will be given in the strongest manner.”
Fahrettin Altun, Turkey's presidential communications director, also said Ankara will never tolerate attacks on its forces in Idlib.
“Let me state clearly that it is never possible for us to tolerate the things that have happened in Idlib. Turkey held the terrorists, who pointed guns at our heroic soldiers responsible, and now it will also hold those murderers responsible for martyring [its soldiers in Idlib],” Altun said at an event in Istanbul.
The senior Turkish official went on to assert Turkey does not only want to safeguard its own national security, but also to thwart plots against the region.
“If the process [of a refugee influx], which started just beyond our borders, cannot be stopped immediately, a new and larger influx of refugees will start, [eventually] reaching European capitals,” Altun added.
Over the past four years, Turkey’s military has staged at least two unauthorized invasions into northern Syria to push back Kurdish militants, who Ankara accuses of harboring subversive intentions against the Turkish administration.
Syria has denounced the offensives, saying it would respond in kind if the need arises.
Damascus has even been approached by the Kurdish-majority population of the assaulted areas for military support in the face of the Turkish military.
Citing witnesses and a war monitor, Reuters reported earlier this week that Syrian government forces had been hit by Turkish artillery barrages as they tried to seize Saraqib.
On Wednesday, Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syrian government forces in Idlib must pull back behind a line of Turkish observation posts by the end of this month, warning that if they did not do so, Ankara would drive them back.
Turkey’s official state news agency Anadolu reported on Friday that Ankara had sent nearly 150 vehicles with commandos and ammunition to reinforce its observation posts in Syria's Idlib.