Turkey Announces Military Operation in Syria’s Idlib
Turkey’s president has announced the start of a “serious” military operation to enforce a de-escalation zone in Idlib, a province dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants, the Associated Press reported.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that a military operation in the northwestern province is currently being led by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.
In later comments on Sunday, he said opposition fighters will be aided by Turkish troops who will be deployed inside the province, the AP said.
Turkish forces and military vehicles have massed along the border in recent weeks and on Saturday bulldozers dismantled border walls to allow for the passage of military vehicles. Turkish forces have yet to deploy en masse in the province but the AP said on Sunday that some Turkish troops have purportedly been deployed to an area between Idlib and Aleppo province.
Reports cited by the AP and Reuters say that Turkish forces were escorted to the area by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al Sham alliance (HTS).
According to Reuters, the Turkish forces were part of a military reconnaissance team that “scouted” the region on Sunday ahead of planned deployment. “The Turkish team is on its way back. Its mission has been accomplished. They visited areas of disengagement and locations where the Turkish army would be positioned,” an unnamed rebel source told Reuters.
It was not immediately clear why or how there was an escort by HTS militants on Sunday but Turkish deployment inside Idlib is likely to lead to a major confrontation with al-Qaida-linked militants who have said that they will fight against the implementation of the de-escalation zone deal.
On Sunday, Turkey shelled positions inside Idlib, after coming under fire by HTS militants across the border, the AP said. According to Reuters, clashes began when HTS militants fired at a Turkish bulldozer that was removing sections of border wall.
Agence France-Presse said on Sunday that HTS has been weakened by a string of defections in recent months. The defections are part of Turkish efforts to isolate the group before the start of military operations in Idlib.
Pro-Government Forces Besiege ISIS in Key Stronghold
Pro-government forces encircled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in the city of al-Mayadeen on Sunday, Reuters reported, citing a Syrian military source.
“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir al-Zor and its countryside … and encircle Daesh terrorists in the city of al-Mayadin,” an unnamed military source told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Pro-government forces first reached al-Mayadeen on Friday, according to AFP.
The loss of al-Mayadeen would serve as a big blow to the militant group. The ISIS command structure is believed to be based in the city, which is on the Euphrates River.
SDF to Launch Final Push Against ISIS in Raqqa
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing for the launch of the final stage of their campaign against ISIS in Raqqa, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday.
The SDF has captured around 90 percent of the embattled city and its fighters are currently advancing from the city’s north and east in an attempt to close in on militants holed up in a pocket of territory near Raqqa’s city center.
If the forces advancing from the north link up with their counterparts from the east, then the group can begin its final push against militants in the northern city, an SDF commander told AFP.
The assault on the militants will focus on areas around Raqqa’s national hospital, the nearby football stadium and surrounding residential neighborhoods, where the group’s last fighters in the city remain.
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