Turkey designates Al-Qaeda's Syria branch as terrorist group

The announcement came as Russia and Syria prepares to stage an attack on Idlib where Turkish army and HTS have bases.

ISTANBUL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey's Presidency announced on Friday that it was officially designating Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a terrorist organization. The move comes amid preparations by the Syrian government and Russia to reclaim the rebel-held Idlib Province where the group holds sway.

HTS was formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, and has already been labeled a terrorist organization by the UN, US, Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime.

Ankara's decision against HTS puts its military forces, now present in the area for a de-escalation of conflict mission in Idlib, in a precarious situation.

The Turkish army moved into Idlib last year, according to a deal in Astana with the Syrian regime's primary allies, Russia and Iran, in which it was to act as a guarantor for the HTS-dominated Islamist rebel forces to stop fighting in the region.

At times escorted by the HTS, the Turkish army has set up at least 12 observation posts in Idlib. On the other side of a demarcation line, Iran and Russia man their own posts in government-held Aleppo.

Idlib is home to some three million people including the internally displaced and is the last stronghold of the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition. The Syrian regime's push to regain control of the area presents Turkey with another potential crisis caused by a likely resulting refugee influx, something the UN and US have raised concerns about.

Turkey's Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and Intelligence chief visited Moscow twice since mid-August in a bid to reach a compromise regarding Idlib.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday reiterated plans to stage an assault on Idlib, vowing "to wipe out terrorists" there.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had earlier told Lavrov that a military move into Idlib by Syrian and Russian forces would create a "disaster."

Editing by John J. Catherine