Turkish troops exchanged fire with Syria-based jihadists ahead of expected incursion

Turkish armoured military vehicles patrol on the Turkish-Syrian border line in Reyhanli, Hatay province, Turkey, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Vastavam web: Turkish troops today exchanged fire with Syria-based jihadists as Ankara massed military vehicles on the frontier ahead of an expected operation to oust Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate from Idlib province.President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday announced the launch of an operation by pro-Ankara Syrian rebel forces, backed by the Turkish army, to reimpose security in Idlib.Turkey has massed special forces and military hardware including tanks on the border but the operation has yet to begin in earnest, monitors and sources on the ground said.

But Turkish forces fired seven mortars over the border with the aim of easing the passage of the pro-Ankara Syrian forces, the Dogan news agency reported.HTS jihadists this morning opened fire on Turkish forces removing part of a wall along the border between Turkey and Idlib, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.The Observatory reported “heavy exchanges of fire”, but said the incident did not appear to mark the start of the operation Erdogan described yesterday.

Turkish armoured vehicles and troops were waiting on the border, from where smoke could be seen from the mortar fire, an AFP photographer said.Turkey, along with Syrian regime allies Russia and Iran, earlier this year agreed a deal to implement four such ceasefire zones in Syria as a prelude to talks on a peace deal.The zone encompassing Idlib is the last one to go into effect, and its implementation has been held up by fierce opposition from HTS.

The group yesterday warned “treacherous factions that stand by the side of the Russian occupier” should only enter the area if they want “their mothers to be bereaved, their children to be orphaned, their wives to be widowed”.”Since summer, Turkey has been reorganising those rebels and pulling them into a new politico-military structure that is supposed to be more cohesive,” said Aron Lund, fellow with The Century Foundation think tank.Turkey is working in cooperation with Russia, even though they have been at loggerheads throughout the over six-year Syrian civil war, with Moscow backing the regime and Ankara the rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey has also long warned it could also move against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia who control Afrin to the east and which Ankara considers a terror group.Erdogan yesterday warned that “new initiatives” would follow after the Idlib operation.