SARAQIB: Turkey beefed up its military positions in Syria’s rebel bastion of Idlib on Tuesday as the clock ticked down on a mid-October deadline to remove extremists from the area.
Further complicating Turkey’s task, a war monitor said hundreds of members of the IS group were transferred by the regime to the northwestern region from eastern Syria.
Russia, the government’s main ally, and Turkey, the rebels’ top sponsor, agreed last week in Sochi on a plan meant to avert a large-scale regime offensive on Idlib.
The country’s last major rebel stronghold is home to around three million people, and the United Nations had warned an assault could have sparked a humanitarian disaster on a scale yet unseen in the seven-year conflict.
The deal reached in the Russian resort puts the onus on Turkey, which is now expected to get extremists to hand over their heavy weapons
and vacate a U-shaped demilitarised zone around Idlib.
Turkey already has 12 military “observation points” dotted across the province, and on Tuesday an AFP correspondent saw a convoy of reinforcements after they crossed the border into Idlib.
Around 35 military vehicles travelled south down the main highway near the town of Saraqib after midnight.
The convoy was accompanied by the National Liberation Front (NLF), who control part of the enclave on the Turkish border.
Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate, controls more than half of the rebel zone, while NLF fighters hold sway over most of the rest.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish convoy headed to an “observation point” in the north of Hama province.
On Monday, the Observatory said the government had transferred hundreds of rival fighters to the area.
The head of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, said they were brought from an area where IS still holds a few pockets near the Iraqi border in Deir Ezzor province. — AFP