Turkey sets up new observation post in Syria's HTS-held Idlib
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - The Turkish army on Thursday went 70 kilometers deep into Syria, into the opposition-held province of Idlib, to establish an outpost for the observation of a de-escalation deal between the Russian-supported regime and the Islamist rebels it is fighting.
Public-funded Turkish Anadolu news agency said a military convoy reached the village of Surman southeast of Idlib's Maarrat al-Numan city, a population center under the control of al-Qaeda affiliate Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
It is the sixth observation post the Turkish army is building in the territory of factions it supported to topple the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.
The two sides were just ten kilometers away from each other.
Ankara deployed troops in Idlib as per a September 2017 deal with the Syrian regime's two main backers, Moscow and Tehran, to decrease fighting there.
The first Turkish team entered the region in the following October.
However, the process has been slower than what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin expected.
In December, Reuters reported that the deal almost collapsed when the Syrian army along with Iranian-backed militias and heavy Russian air power launched a major offensive to take territory in Idlib province and surrounding areas.
Earlier this month a Turkish soldier and a civilian contractor were killed, and five others were wounded in a rocket attack when a military team was trying to set up post.
It was the second attack in a week on Turkish troops. Another contractor was the victim of the first attack.
The Turkish army blamed the bombing on "the divisive terrorist organization," a name it uses for the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG is holding off a now almost month-long Turkish offensive to capture the besieged Afrin, just north of Idlib, where airstrikes and ground shelling have killed 184 civilians and displaced over 60,000 others, according to Kurdish officials.
Turkey being a guarantor for al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria puts it in the precarious position of facing Russian-Iranian forces as a NATO ally working with groups Western countries designate as terrorists.
According to the Astana agreement, Turkey is supposed to be disarming the HTS, rather than coordinating its deployments, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
Editing by Nadia Riva