Turkey prepares to pull back from second military post in northwest Syria: Sources

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Turkey is evacuating a second isolated military post in northwest Syria, pulling back from territory controlled by Syrian government forces to an area still held by insurgents and Turkey-backed rebels, Turkish and rebel sources said on Tuesday.

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A source in one of the rebel factions backed by Ankara said trucks arrived at the observation post at Shir Maghar in north Hama province late on Monday night to prepare the evacuation.

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The forces pulling back from Shir Maghar will rebase at a new military post in the village of Kokfin in the rebel-held area of Idlib province, where thousands of Turkish troops are stationed, a Turkish security source said.

A second Turkish source said Turkey was preparing to pull back from additional posts located in areas which Syrian government forces recaptured in an offensive launched last year.

Shir Maghar and Morek, which was abandoned by Turkish forces two weeks ago, were two of a dozen set up by Turkish soldiers in 2018 under an ill-fated deal reached by Turkey, Russia and Iran to calm fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels.

The three powers back opposing sides in Syria’s conflict, with Turkey supporting rebels who fought to topple President Bashar al-Assad while Russia and Iran ultimately helped Assad drive the rebels back to a small pocket of northwest Syria.

Several Turkish military posts were surrounded last year by the Russian-backed Syrian government forces, whose advance was halted in February by Turkish military intervention, followed by a ceasefire agreed between Russia and Turkey.

Already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is determined to prevent a further influx of people fleeing fighting. The United Nations says there are around 4 million people in northwest Syria, of which 2.7 million have been displaced during the nine-year conflict.

Syrian rebels say Turkey retains between 10,000 and 15,000 troops in northwest Syria, alongside rebel fighters backed by Ankara and extremist forces it has committed to disarm and contain.

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