A second observatory post in Syria's Idlib has been established on Oct. 23, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said Friday in a statement. In efforts to create a safer environment in the region, continuing questions have been raised regarding what Turkey's next step will be.
According to the statement released by the TSK, in the scope of the Astana process and decisions taken during those talks, Turkey is among the forces responsible for establishing de-escalation zones in Syria.
"Under this premise, the Turkish military started to conduct exploration activities Oct. 8, establishing its first observation post on Oct. 13 while the second was established on Oct. 23," the statement said, adding that efforts to establish other observation posts were ongoing.
"While efforts for the clearance and discovery of mines are being carried out in the al-Bab region, counterterrorism measures being taken to prevent possible attacks by the PKK and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) targeting western Manbij continue. In this respect, the sporadic attacks, especially in the regions of Azaz-Mare and Manbij, are being met with equivocal responses with equal treatment," the statement further added.
Civilians have also already begun experiencing safer conditions as a result of the operation. Namely, the Martyrs' Camp for internally displaced persons, located in the village of Atmeh near Idlib, provides a healthy environment for orphans and widows who lost everything to the conflict in Syria. Most families at the camp have lost hope of ever hearing from their loved ones who were arrested by the Bashar Assad regime.
Mariam Sallum, 32, a resident of the camp and a mother of three, says the operation offers hope to her and her three children. Sallum has stayed at the camp for six years, along with her three children: 7-year-old Ali, 8-year-old Omar and 10-year-old Sidrah.
She said that her husband was arrested and taken to a regime prison in Hama six years ago, adding that he hasn't been heard from since.
"My husband was working in Damascus, then left his job and began working in a bakery," she said. "As soon as his contract ended, [the regime] arrested him. The [Syrian] army entered our region and took many young people away."
"They took my husband and his brother. We haven't heard from them since. We assume they are dead," she said. She said she chose to seek shelter in the city of Idlib because it was close to Turkey."This area is safe because it borders Turkey. When we are close to Turkey, there are no airplanes and fewer attacks," she explained. "We cannot return to our village because it is controlled by the regime."
Describing her life as a widow with three children as "difficult," she told Anadolu Agency, "My children are my only source of happiness. I think about dying sometimes but then I remember my children."
Sallum went on to say that she thinks about her missing husband whenever she becomes depressed.
"Sometimes I cannot remember his face, so I look at his photos," she said. "Photos are all I have."
After looking at their family photo album, her eldest son, Omar, said, "I don't feel anything when I look at [my family]; I don't remember anyone. I only know my mother."
Omar's brother, Ali, however, says he imagines his father returning one day.
"I bring my mother the juice they give out at school and I share the cookies they give us with my brothers," Ali said.
He added that he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. Pointing to the Turkish soldiers stationed at the camp, he said, "The Turkish soldiers are here to protect us from Bashar Assad."
Meanwhile, an expert on security policy talked about the longevity of the operation. "It is not possible to talk about a determined schedule right now," said Mete Yarar. "These kinds of operations are usually open-ended. In addition, this operation has three missions: Preventing the movement of the PYD toward the south, preventing the possible migrants that may pass through Turkey and the self-evacuation process of the Nusra Front. None of these missions depend on any schedule. They are not like the Daesh, in which you go and clear the area from them."
Turkey considers the PYD and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG) to be a terror threat, saying that these organizations are an offshoot of the PKK, which is officially recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU and Turkey. However, the EU and the U.S. do not recognize the PYD/YPG as a terrorist organization.
Turkey strongly opposes the presence of any PKK-affiliated group south of its border, both in Iraq and Syria, saying the presence constitutes a national security threat to Turkey's borders.
"The next step, as [President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] pointed out before, would be Afrin and permanently abolishing the PKK. The first step was the transition and I suppose that an operation would be the second step," Yarar said regarding the issue.
President Erdoğan said Tuesday that Turkey's operation in northwestern Syria's Idlib was largely complete, asserting, "Now, it's time for Afrin." Earlier this month, Erdoğan also said that Turkey was conducting a "serious operation" with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as part of the de-escalation deal brokered last month with Iran and Russia in Kazakhstan.
The Astana agreement with Russia and Iran - the allies of the Assad regime - involves reducing warfare in several regions, including Idlib and adjacent swathes of Syria's northwest, the most populated opposition-held area.
The operation is the second time in over a year that the TSK has crossed into Syria. The first, Operation Euphrates Shield, was launched on Aug. 24, 2016 in collaboration with the FSA and helped liberate several Daesh strongholds, including Jarablus, Dabiq, al-Rai and al-Bab.