Turkey backs Syr­ian rebels for ‘se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion’ in Idlib

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syr­ian rebel fight­ers are launch­ing a ma­jor mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion backed by Turk­ish forces into a north­west­ern area of Syria largely con­trolled by ji­hadists, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan said on Satur­day.

Rebels said they were pre­par­ing to start the op­er­a­tion soon in Idlib prov­ince and sur­round­ing ar­eas, which rep­re­sent Syria’s most pop­u­lous rebel-held area, and res­i­dents re­ported Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties re­mov­ing sec­tions of a bor­der wall.

The in­cur­sion is be­ing car­ried out af­ter Iran and Rus­sia, which back Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, and Turkey, which sup­ports the rebels, agreed last month to re­duce fight­ing be­tween in­sur­gents and the gov­ern­ment in the north­west.

It seems aimed at curb­ing the Tahrir al-Sham al­liance, Syria’s strong­est ji­hadist group apart from Is­lamic State, and at se­cur­ing Turkey’s fron­tier.

“There’s a se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion in Syria’s Idlib to­day and it will con­tinue,” Er­do­gan said in a speech to his AK Party, adding that Turkey would not al­low a “ter­ror cor­ri­dor” on its bor­der with Syria.

“For now the Free Syr­ian Army is car­ry­ing out the op­er­a­tion there,” Er­do­gan said. “Rus­sia is sup­port­ing the op­er­a­tion from the air, and our armed forces from in­side Turkey’s bor­ders,” he added.

Late on Satur­day, Turkey de­ployed tanks and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles on its Syr­ian bor­der, build­ing up mil­i­tary pres­ence, a Reuters wit­ness said.

Mustafa Se­jari, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Liwa al-Mu­tasem Syr­ian in­sur­gent group tak­ing part in the op­er­a­tion, said Rus­sia would not be back­ing the rebels in the cam­paign.

“As for the Rus­sians, they will not have a role in the ar­eas of our con­trol at all. The role of the Rus­sians is limited to ar­eas un­der regime con­trol,” he said.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran an­nounced a deal last month to es­tab­lish and pa­trol a “de-es­ca­la­tion” zone in the Idlib re­gion, where Er­do­gan has said Turkey will de­ploy troops.

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