Turkish forces clash with Al Qaeda-linked rebels on border

Jerome Frank
October 9, 2017

The statement comes a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish Army forces were preparing to join the efforts spearheaded by the Free Syrian Army to drive Islamists out of the area.

The troop movement is part of a joint mission between Turkey, Russia and Iran to monitor a de-escalation zone in Syria and remove a stronghold of former al-Qaida militants from the area.

Turkish troops are expected to be deployed inside Idlib with Russians stationed around the city, and the collaboration emphasizes the closer ties between Erdogan and Putin, a relationship viewed with concern by Turkey's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

Relations between the two countries suffered a major setback during the election campaign, as German politicians fiercely attacked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demanded from Chancellor Merkel a sharper tone towards Turkey, and called for ending Ankara's European Union membership talks. Turkish soldiers have not yet crossed the border, he added.

Rebel groups taking part in the operation - part of the Euphrates Shield campaign that Turkey has backed with armour and troops in another part of Syria to the east of Idlib since previous year - said on Saturday they expected it to start very soon.

The Turkish army has always been reinforcing its military deployment on the Syrian border in case of a threat to its territory.

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Meanwhile, a series of airstrikes by Russian jets in the past 24 hours had killed about 120 Islamic State fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries in Syria, the defence ministry in Moscow said on Saturday.

The Fateh Al Sham Front, formerly known as Al Nusra Front, is the most powerful faction in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, which remains largely beyond the control of the regime. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad's ouster.

The spokesman noted that the establishment of a de-escalation zone in rebel-held Idlib Province would start in the coming days. At the same time, the Turkish military could launch an operation within Idlib.

Russia, an ally of Assad, is backing the operation from the air, he said.

Entering Idlib by the Turkish-backed rebels and possibly Turkish forces comes in the context of the de-escalation zone deal, which was concluded between Russian Federation and Turkey in the recent sixth round of Astana talks on Syria. "There are millions of people in Idlib, and we will protect Idlib", Erdoğan said.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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