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Iran Press TV

Turkey expands deployment of troops to Syria's Idlib

Iran Press TV

Mon Oct 16, 2017 08:03AM

Turkey's army is expanding its deployment in Syria's militant-held Idlib province despite the Damascus government's call for an "immediate and unconditional" pullout of Turkish troops, militants and witnesses say.

They said Sunday Turkish bulldozers were working non-stop, digging fortifications and erecting observation posts. A new deployment of Turkish armored vehicles and personnel arrived along the Syrian border on Saturday.

"Turkish forces are still in a state of advancing and expanding," said Mustafa al-Sejari, an official with the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Turkey deployed a convoy of around 30 military vehicles to Idlib province late on Thursday. The Turkish forces entered Syria near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, and headed to Shaykh Barakat hilltop.

The hilltop overlooks lands controlled by foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants as well as the Afrin area held by US-backed militants from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Ibrahim al-Idlibi, an FSA military adviser, said nearly 200 troops are now stationed in areas that separate the territory under the control of Kurdish groups and opposition groups.

Turkey says the deployment is part of the Astana agreements with Iran and Russia on the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria.

Damascus on Saturday dismissed Turkey's attempts to link the move to the implementation of the agreement, terming it a "departure" from the deal.

Idlib and swaths of land in Syria's northern and northwestern regions are largely controlled by members of Tahrir al-Sham militant group.

Militant sources said the deployment comes following weeks of coordination between Tahrir al Sham and Turkish intelligence officers.

FSA militant groups said the operation aims to push deeper into Idlib, with the expansion of supply lines and observation posts. "The Turks will be taking up positions 40 km deep inside Idlib as agreed," Idlibi said.

Like in the past when terrorists have left the territories under their control without a fight with Turkish troops, the Takfiri militants would reportedly be retreating further south in a phased withdrawal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country's military operations in Idlib are the follow-up of the Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria, which Ankara launched in August last year without any authorization from Damascus.

Ankara said back then that the main objectives behind the operation were clearing Turkey's southern border of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group and stopping the YPG from gaining more sway there.

Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

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