Turkish soldiers cross border to support Idlib operation in Syria

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HATAY, TURKEY - OCTOBER 9: Turkish Army's armoured vehicle is seen at Reyhanli border due to the transition to Idlib, de-conflict zone, in Hatay, Turkey on October 9, 2017. AFP

The Turkish army crossed the border into Syria’s Idlib province on Sunday night to support an operation to create a “de-escalation zone,” the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said on Monday.

According to the TSK statement, Turkish soldiers started reconnaissance operations to determine surveillance posts, and the mission is being conducted “as per the rules of engagement” agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran during the Astana process.

Turkish forces on Sunday shelled areas along its border with Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, an area dominated by al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants, formerly known as the Nusra Front, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the operation in the area.

Without specifying the number of soldiers who have crossed the border, the TSK statement said: “In the stage that was reached, in order for the tracking of the cease-fire regime, elements of the Turkish Armed Forces within the de-escalation control force, which consists of the armed forces units of the guarantor countries, started reconnaissance efforts on Oct. 8 in order to determine surveillance posts.”

According to CNN Türk, Turkish special forces crossed the border into Syria to determine weapon-launching pits, heavy and armored vehicles, tanks and points where soldiers may come under fire.

Increased military activity can be observed in the Reyhanlı district of the southern border province of Hatay, with a number of armored vehicles as well as heavy machinery, being dispatched to the area, CNN Türk said.

Turkey, Russia and Iran recently agreed to set up four cease-fire zones in line with accords finalized during the Astana peace talks, aimed at ending the Syrian war.

Ousting HTS forces from the area will be needed to allow the arrival of Iranian, Russian and Turkish forces to implement a de-escalation zone.

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