Turkey is reportedly working to stave off an imminent Syrian army offensive to dislodge terrorists from Idlib which is the last major territory still in militant hands.
According to a Turkish diplomatic source, cited by the Middle East Eye news portal, “Ankara is working with other opposition groups in Idlib to eliminate the militants” in order to fend off a Syrian operation.
A militant commander was quoted as saying that the US was happy with Turkey’s plan, since it meant the Turkish-backed “opposition” would be in control of the city instead of Syrian government forces.
Most of Idlib is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
President Bashar al-Assad told Russian media last month that Syria’s next priority was retaking Idlib after the army’s liberation of three provinces on the border with Jordan and the occupied Golan Heights.
Syria says it has turned its focus on Idlib, noting that liberation of the northwestern province is one of the military’s priorities.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday the counter-terrorism fight in Syria would not become complete without eliminating terrorists in Idlib Province.
“The work is in full swing, a lot is yet to be done. At the same time, it is necessary to deal a final blow to terrorists near Idlib, which still remain there,” Lavrov said in Singapore.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says only the Syrian people are entitled to determine the fate of their country, not external players.
Amnesty: Turkey commits rights abuses in Afrin
Amnesty International on Thursday accused Turkish forces of allowing terrorists to commit major rights abuses in the northern region of Afrin, calling on Ankara to immediately end the violations.
The city is under the occupation of Turkish forces since January when Ankara launched an offensive to clear it of US-backed Kurdish militants. Turkey began the operation without permission from the Syrian government.
Amnesty said since Turkey’s military intervention, residents in Afrin have been “enduring a wide range of violations,” to which Turkish armed forces “turned a blind eye.”
“These violations include arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and confiscation of property and looting to which Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye,” the rights group said.
It said some of the terrorist groups in Syria as well as Turkish armed forces had taken over schools, disrupting education for thousands of children.
Amnesty quoted residents as saying that Afrin University had been “completely shut down after it was destroyed and looted,” adding that only one school in Afrin city was accessible.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said the terrorist groups in Syria continued to “wreak havoc on civilians, unchecked by Turkish forces”.
She said that Ankara was responsible for the welfare of civilians as well as maintaining law and order as the “occupying power” in Afrin.