Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militants, detained in Syria’s Idlib, described the scope of Turkish role in the Syrian conflict, and the current opposition against the Syrian Arab Army and Russian Armed Forces operation in the Idlib province.
“We were detained by Turkish policemen and said that if I don’t work for them and fight on the side of Jebhat al-Nusra (HTS), they will kill or arrest my family <…> They gave me a salary of $ 100,” the native, named Mahmoud al-Najim, (callsign is Abu Abdullah) said.
He said that his relatives “the Turks sent to a refugee camp and held hostage.”
“They said that while I work with Jebhat al-Nusra, the family is safe,” said al-Najim. He also said that the entire supply of the group comes from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
In the ranks of the terrorists al-Najim received a machine gunner training. In this capacity, he had a chance to fight throughout Syria. When asked why fighters fired on the city of Aleppo, he replied: “Our commander said that this would lead to civil hatred for the Syrian and Russian military.”
The second militant, a native of Deir Hafir, named Hussein Abdel Aziz (callsign is Abu Uday), said he was captured when his unit retreated to the Turkish observation post in the Rashidin-5 area of Aleppo city. The militants hoped to hide behind the backs of Turkish observers.
“My family did not have enough money for food. And this detachment was gaining men and giving money. I signed up. Then I fought in different groups – Ahrar al-Sham, Syrian Free Army, Kharakat Nur al-Din al-Zinki. All these groups were part of the Jebhat al-Nusra (HTS),” said Abdel Aziz.
According to him, militants from Pakistan and Afghanistan are now fighting on the side of the extremists.
Russia, Iran and Turkey in May 2017 in Astana agreed to create four de-escalation zones in Syria. Three of them in 2018 came under the control of Damascus.
The fourth, located in the province of Idlib and parts of the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, is not yet entirely occupied by government forces, most of it was captured by the HTS militants.
In September 2018, an agreement was signed between Russia and Turkey in Sochi on the creation of a demilitarized zone in Idlib. The largest formations in this region are the union of the pro-Turkish groups National Liberation Front and HTS, at about 30 thousand militants in total.
In late January, the Syrian army launched an offensive in the west of Aleppo in connection with the constant bombardment by terrorists of residential areas of the city.
The first militant lines were broken as a result of the attack, and soon government troops liberated the city of Maarret-en-Nuuman, which has been under the control of militants since 2012 and was one of their largest strongholds.
Turkey accused Damascus and Moscow of striking civilian targets and the Turkish military. In Russia and Syria, they note that the reason for the military escalation in this region was a result from the actions of terrorists.
The Syrian Arab Army, after the liberation of the city of Maarret-en-Nuuman, where the HTS stronghold was located, are now approaching Sarakibu from three directions – southern, eastern and western.
This city is of strategic importance and is located at the intersection of the Latakia-Aleppo and Damascus-Aleppo motorways. Government control of Sarakib could speed up the defeat of the militants in the area.
To counter this, according to Al Arabiya, 195 units of Turkish military equipment, including armored vehicles and tanks, as well as ammunition trucks, crossed the border with Syria on February 2nd. On February 3rd, another military convoy proceeded to Idlib province.
Turkish aviation and artillery attacked 54 targets on February 3rd in Idlib, resulting in 76 Syrian troops being “neutralized,” according to Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar.
This attack followed in response to the Syrian army shelling Turkish positions in the vicinity of Sarakib, resulting in the deaths of five Turkish military and three civilian personnel.
The Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria said that Turkish soldiers fell under the shelling of government forces, as the Turkish side did not warn Russia about their movements. Syrian troops fired on militants who retreated to Sarakib.
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