Erdogan: Turkey backing FSA rebels in new Idlib push

Sunday, 08 October 2017, 01:44:12 AM. Turkish president says operation in province largely controlled Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham is led by the Free Syrian Army.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara-backed Free Syria Army rebels have launched a major operation in northwestern Syria against former al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

The push on Saturday comes as Turkey along with Russia and Iran prepare to set up a so-called "de-escalation" zone in Idlib province, in line with deals in talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.

Idlib is largely held by the Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which was not part of the talks and has rejected the implementation of a de-escalation zone.

READ MORE: Syria's civil war explained from the beginning

Erdogan said the operation, which has seen Turkish troops heading towards the border but not yet crossing it, was being conducted in coordination with Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Today, there's a serious operation in Idlib and it will continue," Erdogan said in a televised speech.

''We have opened up a space in our region with operation Euphrates Shield and now we are making efforts to take a step forward by maintaining security in Idlib," he added.

Erdogan said many Syrians had fled to Idlib from neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting last year, and Turkey was not going to let them down.

"We can't tell them, 'Whatever happens, happens. You can either die or survive.' We have to extend a hand to our brothers. Now, this step has been taken, and it is under way.''

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'Not a picnic'

Idlib is mainly controlled by HTS, an alliance led by al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, which ejected more moderate rebels in recent months

HTS is not party to a deal brokered in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran for the safe zone in the province, one of four such "de-escalation" zones across Syria.

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