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The New Arab

Turkey launches 'limited' operation to retake Idlib towns

Turkey has been amassing troops in Idlib in recent weeks, preparing for an offensive [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 February, 2020

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A Turkish-led operation recaptured a key town in Syria’s Idlib, reports say, following days of Turkish threats of an operation to curb the crushing regime offensive on the opposition-held province.
The Turkish military has launched a "limited" ground operation inside Syria to recapture towns on Idlib’s southeastern front, Turkish diplomatic sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language site on Thursday.

Video footage has circulated on social media showing Turkish infantry commandos storming the town of Nayrab, which rebels partly captured several weeks ago.

The Syrian activist filming the video said the threatened Turkish operation in Idlib had begun.

A barrage of Turkish shelling in the Nayrab area was also captured on video, while reports emerged that two Russian drones were downed.

Activists believe the drones were likely shot down by by Turkish man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), after reports that Ankara had 
recently provided MANPADs to the Syrian rebel groups. Ankara has denied the claim.

Comment: The eleventh hour for Idlib, Syria's last rebel bastion

Local media also reported fierce clashes between Turkish-aligned rebels and regime forces.

Pro-opposition observers reported that Turkish forces and rebel groups had taken Nayrab and that Russian special forces had withdrawn from the town. A video purported to show rebels of the Free Syrian Army celebrating their victory emerged on Twitter.

Multiple video clips purported to show Turkish tanks mobilising towards the town of Saraqeb, an important strategic town for the Syrian regime, located on the junction of two major roads,  the M4 and M5. Turkish forces were also reported to be shelling regime forces near Saraqeb.

Small contingents of Syrian rebel fighters are thought to have supported the Turkish operation, with video footage of shelling regime positions in Southern Idlib.

Neither the Turkish or the Syrian regime have confirmed the reports as of yet.

High-level Turkish diplomatic sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that Ankara has reached a deal with Moscow that pro-regime forces were to withdrew from parts of eastern Idlib, including the towns of Saraqeb and Maarat al-Numan, in exchange for the Russian-backed regime being permitted to remain in the western Aleppo countryside.

Turkey's foreign minister said on Thursday that Turkey and Russia had made some progress during talks in Moscow this week on restoring calm in northwestern Syria, but the discussions had not yet produced the results Ankara desires. Talks are set to continue.

His remarks come a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of an imminent military operation to force the Syrian regime forces to retreat.

"We could enter (Idlib) suddenly one night," Erdogan told legislators from his ruling party on Wednesday.

The Assad regime has been conducting a crushing military campaign in recent weeks to recapture parts of the last rebel-held areas in Idlib province, as well as the countryside of neighbouring Aleppo province.

The swift advances on multiple fronts have triggered the largest single wave of displacement in the nine-year civil war, with nearly 1 million people driven from their homes toward the Turkish border.

The advance has strained cooperation between Moscow and Ankara - which have been working together despite supporting opposing sides in the Syria conflict - and led to direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops.

Turkey and Russia have closely coordinated their moves in recent years in Idlib province. A truce reached between the two countries collapsed in late 2019, leading to the current Syrian offensive, backed by Russia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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