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Russia to provide air support to Turkish operation in Syria, Erdogan says

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday, October 7 that a “serious operation” has begun in Idlib province in Syria and that Russia will provide air support.

“There is a serious operation in Idlib at the moment and this will continue,”Erdogan said at an AKP event, adding that the operation has not yet been named. He said that the operation aims to provide security in Idlib and that Turkish armed forces have not yet entered 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.

Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in Liwa al-Mutasem, an FSA group involved in the operation, said Russia would not support the rebels.

“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,” Sejari said.

Tentative beginnings

Turkey’s top military official, Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar visited the border region on Saturday, accompanied by land and air force commanders and Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT).

The state-owned Anadolu Agency said fully-equipped commando units were deployed in Turkey’s Hatay province, bordering Idlib.

It is unclear if the FSA groups have entered Idlib, although Turkey has dismantled sections of its Syrian border wall with in preparation for the operation.

“The Free Syrian Army, with support from Turkish troops, is in full readiness to enter the area but until this moment there is no movement,”Liwa al-Mutasem’s Sejari said.

Another FSA fighter told Reuters: “We expect that the large-scale operation that has been prepared will be launched perhaps within the next 24 hours.”

The Hamza Brigade earlier posted a video of its forces heading for Idlib.

#عاجلفرقة الحمزة ( قوات خاصة ) تعلن رسميا" التوجه إلى مدينة إدلب لتحريرها من القاعدة عجيان الجولاني

Posted by Masoud Ibo on Friday, October 6, 2017

A Syrian rebel commander in Turkey told the Associated Press that the operation had not begun but said preparations were underway for FSA fighters and Turkish troops to enter Idlib.

“The aim of the operation is to implement the Astana agreement by setting up Turkish observation posts similar to those of Russia,” Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush said.

“This cannot be achieved without confronting the Nusra Front. The aim is to finish Nusra Front.”

De-escalation zone

In September, Turkey, Russia and Iran announced a de-escalation zone in Idlib agreed at talks in Astana, and Erdogan said Turkey will deploy troops to provide security in the province.

Idlib is controlled by various groups opposed to Syrian president Basher al-Assad, but significant territory in the province is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadist groups headed by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the latest name for al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front). The alliance includes including many fighters from Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham, and is currently led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, leader of JFS.

Russia said it killed a dozen senior JFS figures and seriously injured al-Julani in an October 3 airstrike, but JFS denied that Julani was hurt.

In a statement, HTS said the Turkey-backed FSA factions were “treasonous factions that aligned themselves with Russia” against groups fighting the Syrian regime, describing them as “tools.” It warned that “the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce.”

The statement did not mention Turkey.

Efrin the real target?

“We will never allow the formation of a terror corridor along our border with Syria,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan said the Idlib operation is the follow-up to Operation Euphrates Shield, in which FSA groups backed by Tirkish armed forces captured Syrian territory between Jarablus and Al Bab. One of the aims of the operation was to prevent the Efrin and Kobane Cantons of the Kurd-led self-declared Democratic Federation of Northern Syria from uniting. Efrin borders Idlib, and earlier this week Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said plans are in place for a military operation against Efrin.

Turkey sees the Kurd-led Syrian YPG – which controls Efrin – as an offshoot of the banned Turkish PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey. The PKK is regarded as a terrorist organisation by many nations including the U.S., but the YPG makes up the backbone of the U.S.-led Coalition-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.

“The Idlib operation will allow us new initiatives on this issue,” Erdogan said.

Turkey says military ready for operation against Efrin, Syria

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