Turkish forces start surveillance, reconnaissance in Syria’s Idlib province

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A Turkish soldier looks out of the window of a truck as they drive near the Turkey-Syria border in Reyhanli, Hatay province, on October 9, 2017. The Turkish army has launched a reconnaissance mission in Syria's largely jihadist-controlled northwestern Idlib province in a bid to create a de-escalation zone, the military said on October 9. / AFP PHOTO / ILYAS AKENGIN

Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) units on Sunday launched military surveillance and reconnaissance activities in the northwestern Syrian province İdlib as part of the multinational “Tension Reduction Control Force,” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.

The TSK said its units had started activities on Sunday in jihadist-controlled İdlib by establishing observation points as part of a cease-fire agreed by guarantor states Turkey, Russia and Iran, aligned with various parties of the Syrian civil war. The TSK units that entered İdlib are part of a joint operation force called “Tension Reduction Control Force” that also includes military units from the other guarantor states.

According to the Anadolu new agency, these states have been granted guarantor status to maintain the cease-fire in Syria declared on Dec. 30, 2016 as part of the Astana Process. The creation of a zone of de-confliction was reportedly the goal of the military presence in the region.

The TSK had shelled positions in Syria’s jihadist-controlled Idlib in support of the progression of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on the ground.

İdlib is one of the most conflicted areas in the region, with large waves of violence in the short history of the Syrian civil war. Since the Syrian regime lost control over it and Russia became involved, the area has suffered heavy air bombardments. Hundreds of thousands of civilians from the interior of the country also have taken refuge in İdlib. As a result, currently over 2 million people, half of whom are in camps, are living in the city, which has borders with both Turkey and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)-controlled Afrin canton.

A visit by Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and other top commanders to the border province on Saturday was evaluated as a signal of the beginning of the operations in Idlib.

Tahrir al-Sham is spearheaded by the former the Nusra Front, which was al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch until last year, when it changed its name and broke formal allegiance with the worldwide movement founded by Osama bin Laden.

Turkey has been one of the biggest supporters of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the six-and-a-half-year war, but its focus has moved from ousting him to securing its own border, Reuters noted.

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