Turkey's armed forces maintain their presence in the province of Idlib, Syria, just across Turkey’s southern border, said the Turkish defense minister early Thursday.
Rebuffing any claim that Turkey has withdrawn from the region of northwestern Syria, Hulusi Akar told reporters in the capital Ankara that "our elements maintain their presence."
On talks between Turkish and Russian military officials on starting joint patrols in Idlib, under the terms of a cease-fire reached last week, Akar said: "The Russian military delegation arrived and talks continue. We reached a great deal of agreement."
"Our forces have been ordered to act accordingly if the cease-fire is violated and attacks continue. Everyone is ready at any moment […] We will continue to restart where we left off and hurt them [Assad regime forces]," Akar added.
After at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred last month in Idlib by Assad regime forces, Turkey retaliated on regime targets and launched Operation Spring Shield in the province to prevent further attacks on Syrian civilians and Turkish troops.
The troops were in Idlib under the terms of a previous 2018 cease-fire deal for the Syrian province.
Akar stated that five top terrorists affiliated with the YPG/PKK had been neutralized in northern Iraq in air- and intelligence-backed operations.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU – has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants. The YPG is the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
Regarding the measures taken against the coronavirus, Akar said: "We have limited our delegations from going abroad and their international contacts."
"The Turkish Armed Forces also halted handshakes for a while. We will not be able to accept guests to any oath-taking ceremonies or graduation ceremonies in the upcoming period. We expect understanding from our valued cadets and their families," he added.
Turkey on early Wednesday confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, with the health minister urging citizens to avoid international travel unless absolutely necessary.
Coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 114 countries.
The global death toll is now over 4,600, with more than 124,500 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared the outbreak “a global pandemic.”
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