Turkish military crosses the border into Syria's Idlib to start expeditionary activities

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
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Turkish military units have started expeditionary activities in Idlib, Syria, in line with the de-escalation zone deal that emerged from talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said in a statement Monday.

The statement, published on TSK's website, says that the military elements that will take part in the monitoring force have started their deployment as of Oct. 8, 2017, to establish monitoring sites during the operation.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Turkey, launched an operation in Idlib as part of the de-escalation agreement reached in the latest Astana talks amid attempts to prevent the formation of "terrorist cantons" being established along its border with Syria by the Syrian, PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Developments in Syria and Iraq are "directly related to Turkey's national security," Erdoğan said, adding that Ankara is resolute "to solve the problem at its source."

The statement says the goals of the de-escalation zones, which were declared Dec. 30, 2016, and guaranteed by Turkey, Russia and Iran through the Astana process, aim to increase the effectiveness of the cease-fire agreement, ending armed clashes, providing humanitarian aid to those in need, establishing proper conditions for displaced people to return and supporting the establishment of conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It says that TSK elements will be carrying out their duties through the rules of engagement agreed to by the guarantor countries.

Control of the Idlib region is divided into two between moderate opposition groups and al-Qaida-affiliated coalition of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which rejects the Astana process and is excluded from talks in Astana.

The operation aims to clear HTS from the region in order to maintain the cease-fire.

Turkey also aims to contain the Afrin region, which is controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), PKK terrorist group's offshoot in Syria, and its armed wing People's Protection Forces (YPG).

The operation is the second Turkish incursion into Syria. The first operation, Euphrates Shield, was launched on Aug. 24, 2016. It backed FSA forces to clear Daesh from Turkey's border and establish a buffer zone for security and prevent further influxes of refugees into the country.

The operation recaptured several towns, including Jarablous, al-Rai, Dabiq and al-Bab and securing the town of Azaz, a main refugee center in northern Syria across the border from Turkey. The operation also prevented the PYD from taking control of the area in its bid to connect its Afrin canton with the territories it controls in Manbij, Kobani and further east in Hasakah and Qamishli.

In the operation, Daesh strongholds were defeated and more than 2,000 square kilometers in northern Syria were seized from the terrorist group. More than 100,000 Syrian refugees were relocated back to their hometowns in the liberated areas.

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