Turkey’s military has begun setting up observation posts in northwest Syria’s Idlib province, its General Staff said on Friday, part of a deployment that appears partly aimed at containing a Kurdish militia.
Turkey sent a convoy of about 30 military vehicles into rebel-held northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing in Idlib, rebels and a witness said.
Video distributed by the Turkish army showed what it said was the convoy starting to move on Thursday night, with military
vehicles travelling along a road in darkness.
Turkey says its operation, along with Syrian rebel groups it backs, is part of a deal it reached last month with Russia and Iran in Astana, Kazakhstan, to reduce fighting between insurgents and the Syrian government.
The army said its forces in Syria were conducting operations in line with rules of engagement agreed with Russia and Iran.
However, the deployment is also intended to rein in the Kurdish YPG militia, which holds the adjacent Afrin region, a senior rebel official involved in the operation said.
“(It is) in line with Astana 6 resolutions to ensure the area is protected from Russian and regime bombing and to foil any attempt by the separatist YPG militias to illegally seize any territory,” said Mustafa Sejari, an official in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group.
Broadcaster CNN Turk reported on its website that there was a clash in Idlib countryside near the Ogulpinar border post in Turkey’s Reyhanli district.
It said the sound of “doshka” (machine-gun) fire from across the border could be heard in Reyhanli district and it was not clear which forces were clashing.
The convoy was heading towards Sheikh Barakat, a high area overlooking rebel-held territory and the Kurdish YPG-controlled canton of Afrin, the witnesses said.
President Tayyip Erdogan announced the deployment on Saturday, saying Turkey was conducting a “serious operation” with rebel groups it supports, as part of the Astana “de-escalation” deal.
Turkey has supported rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the war. But since last year Ankara has focused on securing its border, both from jihadists and from Kurdish forces that control much of the frontier area inside Syria.
Turkish forces set up positions in Syria’s Idlib