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Turkish army expands deployment in Syria's northwest

October 15, 2017 at 3:43 pm

A military drill conducted by Turkish Armed Forces in Turkey on 30 September 2017 [Fatih Aktaş/Anadolu Agency]

The Turkish army is expanding its deployment in northwest Syria with the goal of encircling a Kurdish enclave and reining in Russian strikes in the Idlib border province under a deal to reduce clashes, rebels and witnesses said on Sunday.

A convoy of Turkish army troops entered Syria near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Thursday in the first such deployment since last year when Ankara launched a major ground and air offensive to clear Islamic State militants from its last stretch of border with Turkey.

At least four convoys carrying scores of armoured vehicles and equipment have been stationed in several locations in the first phase of a deployment that is expected to deepen inside rebel-held Idlib, opposition sources said.

Ibrahim al Idlibi, a military adviser in the opposition’s Free Syrian Army (FSA), said:

Nearly 200 troops are now stationed in areas that separate territory under control of Kurdish groups and opposition groups

Witnesses said Turkish bulldozers were working around the clock, digging fortifications and setting up observation posts.

A new deployment of Turkish armoured vehicles and personnel arrived along the Syrian border on Saturday, positioned on the Turkish side, witnesses said.

Read: Syria demands immediate pullout of Turkish troops from the country

Turkey was expanding its presence in an area where it hopes to act as a barrier to Kurdish ambitions of uniting the isolated Afrin region, north of Idlib, with the rest of a self-declared autonomous Kurdish zone in the country’s north.

Turkish positions near Samaan castle in the Sheikh Barakat mountains of the fertile, olive-growing province put them just a few kilometres from Kurdish militia forces based in Jendaris.

“Turkish forces are still in a state of advancing and expanding,” said Mustafa al Sejari, a Free Syrian Army official.

Turkey says its operations there, along with the Syrian rebel groups it backs, is part of a deal it reached last month with Russia and Iran in Kazakhstan to reduce fighting between insurgents and the Syrian government.

Syria on Saturday denounced the Turkish incursion saying it was a flagrant violation of its sovereignty and demanded Ankara pull its troops.

The Turkish incursion into the province dominated by the militant group Tahrir al Sham, whose backbone is ex-Nusra Front, Syria’s former al Qaeda offshoot, has run smoothly.