The Turkish military has entered the northern Syrian province of Idlib to begin implementing a de-escalation zone there, the first of four zones agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Turkish Armed Forces on Thursday, October 12, began setting up observation points in Syria’s northern province of Idlib to implement a de-escalation zone as agreed upon during the Astana peace talks, the Turkish military said on Friday in a statement.
The mission’s aim is to ensure proper conditions for the establishment, surveillance and continuation of the ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of those displaced to their homes.
The mission is a result of the Astana agreement reached on September 15 between Turkey, Russia and Iran in Astana, Kazakhstan.
TRT World's Nicole Johnston reports from the Turkey-Syria border region.
Details of the mission
A convoy of around 50 armoured vehicles crossed the border from Turkey's Hatay province on Thursday night. More than 100 Turkish soldiers have been deployed, including special forces.
According to reporters in the region, the military convoy passed through Turkey's Cilvegozu border in Reyhanli and Hatay into northern Idlib.
Turkey will establish more than 10 observation posts inside Idlib province while the guarantor countries will create a peacekeeping force to reduce the chance of conflict under the Astana deal.
As per the deal, the three countries will set up four de-escalation zones in Syria, mainly in opposition-held areas which have been facing in-fighting between rival Syrian opposition groups who are battling each other for control, as well as fighting the Syrian regime.
This is the second time Turkey has entered Syria. The first was in 2016 during Operation Euphrates Shield.
Last month Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed to set up four de-escalation zones in Syria, including Idlib province, which is one of the last main opposition strongholds in the country.
As part of the deal, Turkey announced on Saturday the beginning of a mission by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by the Turkish military, to re-impose security in Idlib and northwestern Syria.
Initially the aim was to send forces to north of Idlib, close to Afrin which is controlled by the YPG – the Syrian wing of PKK which is listed as terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The PKK has waged an armed campaign against the Turkish state for most of the period since 1984.
It resumed its armed struggle in July 2015 after a brief suspension of hostilities. Since then, authorities say it has killed around 1,200 people, including women and children.
The mission not only aims to protect civilians but also prevent the flow of refugees into Turkey, as well as a conflict in the region that might arise in the absence of de-escalation zones.
Firewall against PKK-PYD
Turkey’s military cordon in Idlib will provide a safe zone and prevent the PKK-PYD from extending their sphere of influence beyond Aleppo’s Afrin which is to the northeast of Idlib.
The terror group has been occupying Afrin since 2011, a strategic move to give it access to the Mediterranean from the Iraqi border.
Situation in Idlib
Syria’s Idlib, which lies northwest of the Turkish border, has been a focal point of the Syrian civil war which began in 2011 following a crackdown on anti-regime and pro-democracy protesters.
In March 2015, Idlib came under the control of opposition military forces and armed opposition groups who were opposed to Syria's regime leader, Bashar al Assad.
The population of Idlib has increased from 2.5 million to four million as a result of other civilians taking refuge in the city.
Three months ago, the city’s most active opposition militant group, Ahrar al Sham and armed opposition, Hayat Tahrir al Sham, withdrew from Idlib’s city centre.
A Local Assembly, a local governance body which is formed by civilians, rules the city centre and provides public services through Syria’s provisional government.
During the Astana talks, Turkey, Russia and Iran had agreed on four de-escalation zones which include Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia.
Ankara said its troops also will secure roads for charity organisations to deliver aid to thousands of people in the province.
It said Turkish troops will not launch any ground offensives and will only support the FSA if the de-escalation zone deal is violated.