The Turkish army has begun setting up “observation posts” in Syria’s largely Takfiri-controlled northwestern Idlib province as part of its efforts to create a de-escalation zone, the military said on Friday.
“On October 12 (Thursday), we began activities to establish observation posts,” the military said in a statement, after local media reported that Turkish troops and armored vehicles entered Idlib province late Thursday.
Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate Nusra Front.
Over 100 soldiers, including special forces, and 30 armored vehicles entered Idlib, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reported on Friday, as it speculated more troops could be sent to the province over the next few days.
The Turkish army is backing pro-Ankara Syrian militants, who will need to oust HTS members in the area to allow Iranian, Russian and Turkish forces to implement the de-escalation zone.
The move comes after the Turkish army launched a reconnaissance mission on Sunday as part of efforts by Turkey, along with Russia and Iran, to set up the zone in line with accords in Astana peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.
They agreed on four such ceasefire zones in Syria as a prelude to negotiations.
Three zones are already in place — in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, in central Homs, and in parts of southern Syria — which are being monitored by Russian military police.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed late Thursday that a military convoy of Turkish forces entered Idlib before heading towards the western part of Aleppo province.
The fourth de-escalation zone includes Idlib but also parts of the neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo regions.