Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country’s army forces are supporting a full-scale military operation, which has just begun by the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), aimed at liberating militant-held areas in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.
The Turkish president made the remarks at the 26th semi-annual consultation and assessment meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey’s western city of Afyonkarahisar on Saturday, describing the operation as being “serious.”
“Today a landmark operation is underway in Idlib, and this will continue. We will never allow a terror corridor along our Syrian border,” Erdogan said.
Idlib and swaths of land in Syria’s northern and northwestern regions are largely held by the Takfiri Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist outfit, spearheaded by a former al-Qaeda affiliate that changed its name last year from the Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
“We have to help our brothers who arrived in Idlib after fleeing Aleppo. We won’t let them down. The necessary step was taken and it is ongoing. We will never allow the formation of a terror corridor along our border with Syria,” Erdogan said, adding that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were currently supporting the FSA from within Turkey’s borders, while the Russian air force was providing air support to the operation “protecting outside the borders (of the Idlib region).”
The Turkish president said the major offensive was the follow-up of the so-called Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria, which was launched in August last year without granting any permission from Damascus, in a declared objective of clearing Turkey’s southern border of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.
The new operation in Idlib will pave the way for establishing a planned “de-escalation” zone in the province, where Erdogan has said Turkey would deploy troops, but the HTS terrorists have pledged to keep fighting.
Back in May, the fourth round of the intra-Syrian talks, held in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, resulted in an agreement on creating four de-escalation zones across Syria, with Russia, Iran, and Turkey serving as guarantor states.
Three of the safe zones have been created to date in Syria’s central province of Homs, in the Eastern Ghouta area of the southern Rif Dimashq province, and a southwestern militant-controlled stretch along the border with Jordan. They have sharply reduced fighting in the conflict zones.
The newly launched operation is regarded as a strong push for establishing the fourth zone, to be set up in Idlib. Last month, Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara agreed on the details of the safe zone in the volatile province, which borders Turkey.
Idlib province has been the destination of many militant groups who were relocated under deals with Damascus in the past year. Terrorist alliances, however, are still operating in the province, controlling a considerable part of land.
On September 12, the Russian military announced that the Syrian government had managed to liberate 85 percent of the country from the grips of terrorist groups, some two years after Moscow began a counterterrorism campaign in Syria at the official request of Damascus.
The Arab country has been fighting different foreign-sponsored militant and terrorist groups since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated in August last year that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the crisis until then.