Erdogan: 'Serious operation' for Idlib amid army build-up on border



ISTANBUL, Shabtai Gold and Ergin Hava (dpa)- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke Saturday of a "serious operation" in Idlib, a province under rebel control in northern Syria, amid a reported military build-up on the two countries' border.
The president indicated that Syrian rebel forces would carry out military operations and that Turkish forces were not yet inside the Syrian province.



Turkey is working with Russia and Iran to reduce violence in Syria, including turning Idlib into a de-escalation zone, with Turkish forces due to monitor the ceasefire.
Idlib is the only province in Syria under rebel control, but it is dominated by an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent faction, complicating ceasefire efforts.
The Turkish army has been amassing forces near the border, with the state-run Anadolu news agency reporting that the military's chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, and other top generals were on location, inspecting the troops.
Commando units, armoured personnel carriers, construction equipment and ambulances were deployed, Anadolu reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported that Turkish forces removed part of the border wall, in a move that could facilitate the entry of heavy equipment.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels posted on social media that they too are gearing up for action, with fighters posting photos indicating they were being moved through Turkey.
"Today, there is a serious operation in Idlib, and it will continue," Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Afyonkarahisar, in western Turkey.
He said the situation in Syria was affecting Turkey's security.
After his speech, Erdogan was asked by a journalist to expand on his remarks. "Now, the Free Syrian Army is carrying it out, our soldiers are not there yet," Erdogan said, referring to Syrian rebel forces.
The Turkish leader also said preparations were being made to deal with people forced to flee.
Idlib, which has an estimated 2 million residents, including those displaced from other conflict areas, has been battered this week by Russian airstrikes amid fighting in the south of the province.
Dozens have been killed in the airstrikes, according to monitors.
The International Committee of the Red Cross voiced alarm after a key hospital was badly damaged.
Erdogan said this week that Turkey would monitor a de-escalation inside Idlib, while Russia would be present outside the province.
The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011 and has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Some 5 million Syrian have become refugees and more than 6 million are displaced internally.
Turkey has backed rebel groups in Syria's conflict, while Iran and Russia have supported President Bashar al-Assad, who is emerging as the victor of the shattered country.
The three powers have joined forces in recent months as part of negotiations in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, to reduce violence.
Erdogan said that after Idlib, Turkey could take "new initiatives," amid speculation about whether Ankara would look to move against Kurdish forces in Syria.
Meanwhile, Russia said this week that it had severely injured Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, a key military leader in the al-Qaeda-linked faction known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while killing a dozen field commanders and about 50 militants in an airstrike.
HTS, an alliance of Islamist hardliners, denied al-Joulani was injured and said Friday that it launched attacks in Hama, south of Idlib, attacking government forces loyal to al-Assad.
Rebel forces have often fought alongside HTS and the now-defunct al-Nusra Front, whose fighters make up the vanguard of the jihadist alliance, but there is growing discontent with the al-Qaeda-linked force and its internal repression.
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Sunday, October 8th 2017
Shabtai Gold and Ergin Hava
           


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