The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is preparing to launch an attack on the forces of Tahrir al-Sham in the Syrian province in Idlib, the only province in Syria which is still completely under rebel control. Turkey is amassing troops on the border to support the effort, with several of its top generals inspecting the preparations, the military said.
“There’s a serious operation in Syria’s Idlib today and it will continue,” Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to the members of his AK Party on Saturday, adding that Ankara would not allow a “terror corridor” on the border with the war-torn country.
Also on Saturday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that Turkish soldiers removed some walls in the border areas to allow vehicles to pass. The FSA said that no attack has been launched yet, but stressed that the troops remain “in full readiness.”
Previously, Turkey agreed to set up a so-called de-escalation zone in Idlib in a deal with Iran and Russia. The zone would be monitored by Turkish soldiers.
‘Finish Nusra Front’
In order to achieve that, Turkish soldiers and Turkey-based rebels must first defeat the Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which is the second strongest jihadist militia in Syria behind the “Islamic State.” The alliance is spearheaded by the organization previously known as the Nusra Front.
While the Nusra front was formed as an off-shoot of al Qaeda, the militia changed its name and denounced its allianceto the terror network last year.
Commenting on the upcoming offensive, FSA commander Fares al-Bayoush told AP that the aim was “to finish the Nusra Front.”
Responding to reports of the upcoming attack, the Front slammed the FSA and its allies as traitors.
In a statement, the groups said that attacking Idlib would “not be a picnic” and added that “the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce.”
President Erdogan refused to provide details on the extent of Turkish military deployment in Syria.
“When you enter a boxing match, you don’t count how many punches you throw,” Erdogan said.
dj/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)