Turkish-backed forces starting 'major operation' in Syria's Idlib province

Operation Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced plans to deploy the country's soldiers to Syria's Idlib, where the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters backed by Ankara have launched an operation.

"Today in Idlib there is a serious operation underway, and it will continue", Erdogan said during an address to his party in Afyonkarahisar.

TRT World's Sara Firth, who is in the southern Turkish province of Hatay on the Mediterranean coast, explains the latest efforts to build a safe zone in northern Syria. Turkey has supported and backed rebels that seek the toppling of Assad.

He fought as a Chechen rebel against Russian forces before joining the Georgian military in 2006, and fought Russian forces again in Georgia in 2008. "They are waiting to enter", said the commander, who did not want to be named for security reasons.

Turkey's NTV, a private television station, reported an exchange of fire at the border area, quoting "military sources".

Earlier in the day, the Turkish army removed parts of the wall it built between Idlib and the Turkish territory.

The operation is expected to take a four-pronged approach, launching from the Syrian border towns of Atmeh, Bab al Hawa, Harem and Salkin, according to the rebel commander.

Tahrir al-Sham is spearheaded by the former Nusra Front, which was al Qaeda's Syrian branch until past year, when it changed its name and broke formal allegiance to the global movement founded by Osama bin Laden.

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Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, said that the rebel alliance was sending reinforcements to the border area.

"We will absolutely not allow the creation of a terror corridor along our borders", said Erdogan in his speech.

Tahrir al-Sham said any incursion into Idlib would "not be a picnic" for its enemies. "The news is what you see, not what you hear", said an HTS statement published on the group's Telegram channel.

Many Syrians had fled to Idlib from the neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting past year, and Turkey meant to support them, Erdoğan said.

"What is also possible is a joint operation between Turkish forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the terrorists".

Moscow has been carrying out air raids in support of its ally Damascus targeting both ISIL in Deir Az Zor province and rival groups led by al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate in Idlib province in the northwest.

Puzzlingly, the ministry also said three senior IS commanders including Omar al-Shishani had been confirmed dead as a result of an earlier Russian strike.

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