Turkey launches military operation in Syria's Idlib: Erdogan

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Syria and Iraq's territorial integrity with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over the phone Saturday, according to a Turkish Presidency source.

The group is not party to an agreement on setting up a de-escalation zone in Idlib agreed during Syrian peace talks in Astana brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s meeting in Turkey's western province of Afyonkarahisar, Erdogan said "today a landmark operation is underway in Idlib, and it will continue".

Responding to journalists' questions after the televised speech, Erdogan said Turkish soldiers were not yet in Idlib and the military was backing Free Syrian Army forces from within Turkey's borders.

Tahrir al-Sham is spearheaded by the former Nusra Front, which was al Qaeda's Syrian branch until previous year, when it changed its name and broke formal allegiance to the global movement founded by Osama bin Laden. "The goal of the operation is to liberate Idlib fully from Tahrir al-Sham".

Turkey has been moving military equipment to its border with Syria since June 21.

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Tahrir al-Sham is well entrenched in the border area in Idlib and maintains a big military presence in nearby towns, a local rebel and a resident of a town near Bab al-Hawa said.

"Are they going to hand over their weapons - we don't think this is going to be the case - or are they going to fight against the FSA and the Turkish army in the near future?" said Ahelbarra. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad's ouster.

Turkish forces are preparing to enter Idlib province to support rebel forces opposing both the Syrian regime and insurgents, the Anadolu Agency reported.

Erdogan said that many Syrians had fled to Idlib from the neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting previous year, and Turkey was not going to let them down. "We expect that the large-scale operation that has been prepared will be launched perhaps within the next 24 hours", the rebel said.

Idlib's population has ballooned to at least two million as thousands of civilians and combatants have left areas in other parts of the country seized by the Syrian army with the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed militias.

Erdoğan was also asked about whether the method to be used in the Idlib operation will be similar to the Euphrates Shield Operation.