The initiative to exchange views on the latest developments in Syria belonged to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. All the questions raised in the conversation were related to the shooting attack against two Turkish watch posts in the so-called Idlib de-escalation zone.
The Turkish side accuses the command of the Syrian armed forces of thrice deliberately opening artillery and mortar fire, after which three soldiers were injured. On June 13, 2019 the Turkish armed forces artillery placed at one of the posts, was forced to return fire on the Syrian troops. This incident became the first over the entire period of Syria's internal political conflict.
Hulusi Akar urged Sergei Shoigu to intervene in the recent developments in a meaningful way to stop the Syrian command's armed provocations against the Turkish military.
In turn, the Russian minister openly acknowledged the validity of his Turkish colleague's demand, stating that the entire responsibility for attack lies with the Syrian command. According to Arab news agencies, on June 13 the joint Russian-Turkish group of military observers unmistakably identified the firing source and the location of artillery belonging to the Syrian government army.
The Turkish Defense Minister has warned that in case of repeated incidents of this kind, the Turkish army will use every possible means to destroy the Syrian batteries.
On June 18 Damascus broke the silence over the incidents against the Turkish troops' garrisons: Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad delivered a statement, stressing that Idlib and other provinces in the north-west of the country are the territory of Syria, and the government intends to act with due diligence to stop the illegal foreign military presence.
The Syrian authorities have repeatedly issued official statements about the provocative activities of the Turkish leadership, namely the supply of weapons, ammunition and military equipment to the armed anti-government groups in the Idlib zone. Since late May 2019 alone, Ankara has handed several dozen "Grad" rocket launchers, a lot of artillery and other ammunition, American anti-tank TOW systems, portable anti-aircraft missile systems and other samples of weapons and military equipment over to groups of Islamic radicals and the opposition Free Syrian Army.
Sergei Shoigu drew the attention of Hulusi Akar to these facts, suggesting that the in-force projection of Turkish special troops to the Hatay Province bordering with Syria can be used to protect convoys with weapons and military equipment meant for the Syrian rebels. According to the Russian side, the continuation of military assistance to the Syrian armed opposition is a demonstrative violation of agreements reached in Astana and Sochi leading to tougher relations between Russia, Turkey and Iran – the guarantors of peace in Syria.
At the 10th annual international security meeting which began on June 18 in Ufa (Bashkortostan), Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin disclosed the decision by governments of a number of Western European States to allocate several billion dollars to illegal armed groups in Syria in the coming years. He stressed that the West is not going to make distinctions between Islamic terrorist and opposition secular rebel groups banned in the UN and Russia.
It is possible that Turkey, whose special services maintain close contacts with the leaders of all the Syrian anti-government organizations, will be one of the key military supply chains to Syria. Official Ankara keeps nurturing the idea of neutralizing the armed groups of Syrian Kurds east of the Euphrates and creating a 30- kilometer controllable "safety zone" south of the Turkish border.
The intensity of hostilities in the Idlib de-escalation zone decreased slightly as of the morning of June 19. The counterattack of rebel groups at the administrative border junction of the Idlib and Hama provinces was halted by government forces. The attackers suffered significant losses and were forced to retreat to their original positions. In the coming days, we should expect a decisive offensive by the Syrian government army along the border of these provinces in order to break up the enemy forces. This task will mark the beginning of the subsequent defeat of terrorist enclave militants in the north-west of Syria.