TURKEY sent troops into Syria’s Idlib province yesterday with apparent backing from Damascus’s allies Russia and Iran.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the cross-border troop deployment — in conjunction with so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions — on Saturday.
He said the move was agreed with Russia and Iran at the last round of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, though there was no immediate confirmation from either country — or from Syria.
Yesterday Mr Erdogan said troops would ensure the “de-escalation zone” in the province, which is predominantly in the hands of al-Qaida affiliate Hetesh, was observed with “Russia outside, Turkey inside.”
But within hours the Turkish army was shelling the north-western province after claiming it had come under attack by Hetesh fighters.
FSA faction spokesman Mustafa Sejari insisted yesterday: “So far our forces have not entered Idlib,” contradicting unconfirmed reports of the invasion.
Mr Erdogan told a meeting of his AKP party yesterday Turkey’s move was also intended to stop the US-allied
Kurdish YPG militia creating a “terrorist corridor from Afrin to the Mediterranean.”
Afrin is the YPG-controlled canton north of Idlib on the Turkish border, lying west of the large area of Aleppo province occupied by Turkey and the FSA last year.
“If we didn’t take our measures, bombs would fall on our cities,” Mr Erdogan said.
And in a surprise attack on Turkey’s Nato allies, he said Western powers were backing terrorists in Syria and Turkey.
“Isis, al-Qaida, PKK: behind all these organisations you will see the shadow of the West,” he said. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a sister organisation of the YPG. “All of them find refuge in the West,” he claimed.
“Where is Feto?” he asked, referring to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network, which he blames for last year’s failed military coup. “Also in the West. They receive very serious financial support.”
But in the south of Idlib, the alliance between Hetesh and the Turkish-backed Turkistan Islamic Party jihadists from China’s Uyghur minority continued. Al-Masdar News reported yesterday that the two groups had surrounded government forces in the town of Abu Daleh after fighting over the weekend.
While the army was preparing a relief operation, some reports said the town had already fallen.