Erdogan says Turkey working with Syria rebels to implement Idlib accord

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups who play a major role in Operation Euphrates Shield that Ankara launched in northern Syria a year ago, are ready to cross into northwest Syria from Turkey, Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in the Liwa al-Mutasem group said.

Erdogan said the operation, part of a de-escalation deal agreed between Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation, will involve Free Syrian Army groups crossing into Idlib supported by Turkish soldiers from inside Turkey's borders.

NTV reported that Erdogan told reporters after his speech that Russian Federation was backing the operation from the air, while Turkish soldiers were supporting it from inside Turkish borders.

HTS is not party to a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran for the safe zone in the province, one of four such "de-escalation" zones across Syria.

The de-escalation zones will be patrolled by military observers, but Idlib is by far the most significant.

Turkey's Syria policy "may be serving other goals beyond Idlib", said Hakki Uygur, an analyst at the Center for Iranian Studies in Ankara.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Last year, the Turkish army launched a cross-border operation with Syrian opposition fighters to clear an area along its border of the Islamic State group and prevent the dominant Kurdish group from forming a contiguous entity from northeast to northwest Syria.

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The US maintains that the group is still linked to al Qaeda, however.

"Turkish forces are not on Syrian soil yet", Abdulrahman said, adding that army was firing artillery shells across the border, while the rebel alliance attacked a Turkish military base.

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

Cavusoglu also said he discussed Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson northern Iraq, Syria, Idlib and some consulate issues on the phone.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday that Turkey will not allow "terror cantons" to be established at its border with Syria.

He said if Turkey had not acted "bombs would fall on our cities".

Deploying Russian and Iranian observers could potentially be a controversial issue, considering that the Syrian opposition, backed by Turkey, views the two countries as enemies due to their support for the Syrian government.

  • Adam Floyd