Russian state media claims Turkey supporting al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria

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ANKARA, TURKEY - APRIL 03 : Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) attend the groundbreaking ceremony of Akkuyu Nuclear Santral via video conference call, at Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on April 03, 2018. Rasit Aydogan / Anadolu Agency

Russian state-run news agencies reported on Tuesday that Turkey was supporting jihadist groups in Syria that are linked to al-Qaeda after clashes between the Turkish military and Russia’s Syrian government allies in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the Ahval news website reported.

RIA Novosti and TASS reported that Turkey had supported the foundation of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group known to have incorporated fighters from the Nusra Front, which had pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.

The report quotes HTS militants taken captive by Syrian government forces as saying that Turkey had played a role in the formation of the group, forcing Syrians to join its ranks and furnishing it with supplies.

One of the detained militants said their family members had been taken hostage by Turks and that he had been forced to fight alongside the jihadists to ensure their safety.

Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to prevent a Syrian government offensive in Idlib province, the last significant rebel-held area in the country, in September 2018.

But the Syrian government and its Russian backers relaunched their assault on Idlib last April, saying Turkey had failed to clear the province of what they called extremists, pointing to the HTS dominance of the area.

Eight Turkish military members were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces on Monday.

In response, Turkey retaliated with artillery attacks in Idlib, saying that it killed more than 30 Syrian soldiers.

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