Turk­ish forces es­tab­lish po­si­tions in Idlib

Rus­sia re­ports hit­ting 993 Daesh tar­gets in the Deir al-Zor area this week alone

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

Turkey’s mil­i­tary has be­gun set­ting up ob­ser­va­tion posts in north­west Syria’s mil­i­tant-con­trolled Idlib prov­ince, its Gen­eral Staff said Fri­day, in a bid to stop the fight­ing there.

The de­ploy­ment also ap­peared to be aimed at pre­vent­ing the ex­pan­sion of Syr­ian Kur­dish mili­tia backed by the United States, but con­sid­ered by Ankara to be “ter­ror­ists.”

Turkey sent a con­voy of about 30 mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles into rebel-held north­west Syria through the Bab al-Hawa cross­ing in Idlib, rebels and a wit­ness said.

Video dis­trib­uted by the Turk­ish army showed what it said was the con­voy start­ing to move Thurs­day night, with mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles trav­el­ling along a road in dark­ness.

Turkey says its op­er­a­tion, along with Syr­ian rebel groups it backs, is part of a deal reached last month with Rus­sia and Iran in As­tana, Kaza­khstan, to re­duce fight­ing be­tween rebels and the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

The army said its forces in Syria were con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions in line with rules of en­gage­ment agreed with Rus­sia and Iran.

Idlib is largely con­trolled by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by Al-Qaeda’s for­mer Syria af­fil­i­ate, which has ousted more moder­ate rebels in re­cent months.

How­ever, the de­ploy­ment is also in­tended to rein in the Kur­dish YPG mili­tia, which holds the ad­ja­cent Afrin re­gion, a se­nior rebel of­fi­cial in­volved in the op­er­a­tion said.

“[It is] in line with As­tana six res­o­lu­tions to en­sure the area is pro­tected from Rus­sian and regime bomb­ing and to foil any at­tempt by the sep­a­ratist YPG mili­tias to il­le­gally seize any ter­ri­tory,” said Mustafa Se­jari, an of­fi­cial in a Free Syr­ian Army rebel group.

Broad­caster CNN Turk re­ported on its web­site that there was a clash in the Idlib coun­try­side near the Ogulpinar bor­der post in Turkey’s Rey­hanli dis­trict.

It said the sound of “doshka” (ma­chine-gun) fire from across the bor­der could be heard in Rey­hanli dis­trict and it was not clear which forces were clash­ing.

The con­voy was head­ing to­ward Sheikh Barakat, a high area over­look­ing rebel-held ter­ri­tory and the Kur­dish YPG-con­trolled can­ton of Afrin, the wit­nesses said.

Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan an­nounced the de­ploy­ment on Satur­day, say­ing Turkey was con­duct­ing a “se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion” with rebel groups it sup­ports.

Se­jari, the rebel of­fi­cial, said it was im­por­tant to con­tain the YPG to pre­vent any new mil­i­tary of­fen­sive to reach the Mediter­ranean, some­thing that would re­quire it to cap­ture swathes of moun­tains held by rebels and Syria’s army.

“To­day we can say that the dream of the sep­a­ratists to reach the sea and en­ter Idlib and then to Jisr al Shaqour and the coastal moun­tains has be­come a dream,” he said

Turkey re­gards the YPG as an ex­ten­sion of the PKK, a Kur­dish group in­side Turkey that has been wag­ing armed in­sur­gency against Ankara for three decades.

“We said we may come unan­nounced one night, and tonight our armed forces started the op­er­a­tion in Idlib with the Free Syr­ian Army,” Er­do­gan said Fri­day in a speech to his AK Party.

“We are the ones with the 911 kilo­me­ter bor­der with Syria, the ones who are con­stantly un­der threat,” he added, not­ing the YPG’s pres­ence in Afrin.

As the strong­est part of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the YPG has re­ceived mil­i­tary aid from Turkey’s NATO ally the United States to fight Daesh (ISIS).

Last year, Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield op­er­a­tion, an in­cur­sion into north­ern Syria along­side Syr­ian rebel groups to take ter­ri­tory on the fron­tier from Daesh.

That op­er­a­tion was also aimed at stop­ping the YPG us­ing its own ad­vances against Daesh to link Afrin with the much larger area it con­trols in north­east­ern Syria.

In the area taken by the Euphrates Shield cam­paign, Turkey has made changes to lo­cal gov­er­nance that in­di­cate it may be lay­ing a foun­da­tion for long-term ties with that part of Syria.

The As­tana agree­ment with As­sad’s for­eign al­lies Rus­sia and Iran in­volves re­duc­ing fight­ing in sev­eral re­gions of Syria, in­clud­ing Idlib and ad­ja­cent swathes of the north­west, the most pop­u­lous rebel-held area.

In other de­vel­op­ments, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary says its war­planes have flown hun­dreds of sor­ties against Daesh in eastern Syria.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rud­skoi of the mil­i­tary’s Gen­eral Staff said Fri­day that Rus­sian jets have flown 383 mis­sions in the area of Deir al-Zor alone over the past week, hit­ting 993 Daesh tar­gets.

He said Fri­day that the Syr­ian army has been suc­cess­fully de­vel­op­ing its of­fen­sive on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Rud­skoi said Daesh coun­ter­at­tacks in­volv­ing over 1,000 mil­i­tants who moved from Iraq have been re­pelled. He added that the Syr­ian troops are work­ing to clear the town of Mayadeen from mil­i­tants.

He also said the zone un­der Daesh con­trol has shrunk to 14,800 square kilo­me­ters, or less than 8 per­cent of Syria’s ter­ri­tory.

Mean­while, talks on se­cur­ing safe pas­sage for civil­ians from Raqqa have stopped, a city of­fi­cial close to the dis­cus­sions told AFP Fri­day.

A new video that emerged Fri­day shows des­per­ate, ter­ri­fied res­i­dents emerg­ing from de­stroyed dis­tricts, some of them col­laps­ing on the ground in ex­haus­tion as they ar­rive. They seemed to be tak­ing ad­van­tage of a slow­down in the fight­ing and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coali­tion amid ef­forts to en­sure the safe evac­u­a­tion of an es­ti­mated 4,000 civil­ians who re­main trapped in the city.

Some of the ar­riv­ing men were searched be­fore be­ing al­lowed in while oth­ers kissed the ground in re­lief.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.