Turkish forces entered Idlib in northern Syrian Sunday following clashes with militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), triggering the first signs of a battle announced two days ago by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to re-impose security in the province.
The two sides exchanged fire on Syrian grounds as Ankara deployed its forces at the border before an expected military operation to oust the Qaeda-linked militants from the province of Idlib.
Field sources at the border said that Turkish tanks offered a cover for Free Syrian Army fighters on Sunday morning while the Turkish army continued moving in the province of Reyhanli in Hatay province, near the Syrian border to help push its forces inside Idlib, part of a joint mission with Russia and Iran to monitor a ceasefire agreement in Syria’s de-escalation zones.
HTS is not part of a deal brokered by the three countries for the safe zone in the province, one of four such "de-escalation" zones across Syria.
Turkish armored vehicles and troops were waiting on the border, from where smoke could be seen from the mortar fire, an AFP photographer said.
Meanwhile, talks continued on Sunday among figures close from HTS in a bid to find an exit to the crisis.
Those figures want to allow the National Rescue Government led by its newly-elected president Mohammed al-Sheikh to become the civilian representative of Tahrir al-Sham and therefore shoulder the mission of negotiation concerning Idlib to keep the terrorist stain away from the HTS.
Separately, a final assault on ISIS’ last line of defense in its former Syrian capital Raqqa should begin on Sunday night, a field commander for the US-backed forces operating there told Reuters.
The assault on militants in the center of the northern city will focus on surrounding the sports stadium there, said a field commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa, who gave his name as Ardal Raqqa.