Turkish force in armored vehicles crosses border late Thursday
More Turkish troops have deployed near opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
About 80 soldiers in a convoy of 12 armored vehicles crossed the border late Thursday, according to Turkish media. Local sources said the force will initially take up positions in western Aleppo Province on the Idlib border.
A Free Syrian Army commander, Abu Khairo, said about 30 military vehicles entered at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, and moved to Sheikh Barakat, a hilltop overlooking both opposition-held territory and the Kurdish Afrin canton.
Abu Khairo added that the convoy was escorted by fighters from the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish military said last weekend that personnel were being deployed to enforce a “de-escalation zone” agreed with Russia and Iran last month — even as Russian and regime warplanes continue to bomb the province.
Erdoğan first said that the operations would confront “terrorists”, and Turkish-supported rebels said they were ready to confront the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. However, after scattered clashes and shelling, reports indicated that Turkey and HTS reached an agreement for Ankara’s troops to move into the province, parts of which are controlled by the jihadists.
HTS said in a statement on Thursday that while it objected to foreign occupation, the Turkish intervention was a “limited force under the mujahedin’s sway, that in no circumstance exercises control…in these areas in which God’s law is supreme”.
Some observers assessed that the real intent of Turkey’s operation was to contain the Kurdish canton of Afrin, with Ankara putting its troops along the border with Idlib and Aleppo Provinces. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its YPG militia to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
A Free Syrian Army official said Thursday, “The Turkish army convoy is entering under the protection of Tahrir al-Sham to take positions on the front line with the YPG.”
— Michael Horowitz (@michaelh992) October 13, 2017
Turkey first sent in troops and armor, supported by shelling and airstrikes, in August 2016 to back a rebel offensive against the Islamic State in northern Aleppo Province. The operations soon cleared ISIS from the Turkish-Syrian border and took much of the north and west of Aleppo, as pro-Assad forces enabled by Russia finally reoccupied all of Aleppo city.
Ceasefire Deal South of Damascus?
A ceasefire deal covering opposition-held territory south of Damascus has been brokered by Cairo and Moscow, according to Egyptian state media.
The report said the agreement includes Jaish al-Islam, one of the two leading rebel factions in the Damascus suburbs. It went into effect at noon on Thursday.
“We announced a preliminary agreement over the will to enter into a ceasefire and de-escalation deal for the area,” Jaish al-Islam political leader Mohammad Alloush said in televised comments. He said details will be agreed in the near future.
The exact area covered by the truce was not announced. The opposition holds an area in Daraa Province between pro-Assad forces and an Islamic State enclave to the west.
ISIS Car Bombs “Kill Dozens” in Northeast
Islamic State car bombs have reportedly killed dozens of people, including displaced Syrians and Kurdish security personnel, in northeastern Syria.
The attack was near the border of Hasakah Province and Deir ez-Zor Province, where ISIS is facing assaults by both the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and a pro-Assad offensive supported by Russian operations.
The SDF’s Talal Sello confirmed the bombing in the village of Abu Fas in Hasakah, where displaced civilians are processed before entering camps.
“Dozens of people were killed and wounded….The civilians escaped towards desert areas where mines exploded and the toll rose,” Sello said.
A medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said at least 50 people were slain by three car bombs.