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Syria war: Turkey-backed rebels attack jihadists in Idlib

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Turkish military has been on the move in Turkey's Hatay province on the border with Syria

The military operations are expected to be held jointly with troops of the Free Syrian Army.

Idlib had been a centre of fighting between Russian Federation and Iran-backed regime forces and Turkey-backed opposition forces until July this year when Hayat Tahrir Al Sham took control of a large part of the province.

Calling the operation a "new step" to establish security in Idlib, he promised Turkey would not desert civilians there.

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

"Now this step has been taken, and it is underway", he said, adding that Turkish forces were not yet involved at that it was a rebel operation so far.

During his speech, Erdoğan said that the operation in Idlib is the follow-up of the Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria, which was launched on August 24, 2016, in a bid to clear Turkey's border from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and stop the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from merging its Kobane and Afrin cantons.

Though Mr Erdogan said Turkish troops were not yet in Idlib, he said last month that they would be deployed and residents and rebels believe an incursion is imminent.

Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow's military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict.

Most of Idlib is controlled by hard-line militants, including an Al-Qaeda linked group, now the most powerful faction in the province and formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front.

Saying that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are backing the operation from inside the Turkish border, Erdoğan noted that Russian Federation is providing aerial support.

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The alliance controls most of the northwestern province of Idlib after expelling former allies earlier this year.

"We wish them luck", Bahçeli also said.

Four children were among the dead in the early morning strikes on the Idlib province town of Khan Sheikhun on Friday and Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Turkey has been one of the biggest supporters of rebels fighting Assad during the six-and-a-half year war, but its focus has evolved from ousting him to securing its border.

Erdogan said that many Syrians had fled to Idlib from the neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting a year ago, and Turkey was not going to let them down. It said the operation was yet to formally begin.

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.

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