Erdogan announces "serious" operation in northern Syria

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

The FSA groups supported by Turkey are now ready to enter Idlib, Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in the Liwa al-Mutasem group said.

"Today there's a serious operation in Idlib and it will continue, because we have to extend a hand to our brothers in Idlib and to our brothers who arrived in Idlib", Erdogan said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron discussed the current situation in Syria and Iraq via phone on Saturday.

"The fighters number in the thousands and there are Turkish soldiers participating", he added, without giving further details.

Rebel groups taking part in the operation - part of the Euphrates Shield campaign that Turkey has backed with armour and troops in another part of Syria to the east of Idlib since a year ago - said on Saturday they expected it to start very soon.

"For now the Free Syrian Army is carrying out the operation there", he said.

In a statement, the groups said that attacking Idlib would "not be a picnic" and added that "the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce".

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Also Sunday, the Al Qaeda-linked Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for the Liberating Levant Committee, which includes the Nusra Front, was said to have destroyed a Turkish tank in a border area between Atama and Sarmada area in northern Idlib. Turkey has supported and backed rebels that seek the toppling of Assad. "Russia is supporting the operation from the air, and our armed forces from inside Turkey's borders".

Other FSA commanders also denounced Russian involvement.

"The process, which began with a step yesterday and started to be applied this morning, is continuing as you know and that effort is continuing in a calm way without problems" Erdogan said, speaking in the western province of Afyonkarahisar at the closing ceremony of his ruling party's conference.

HTS has pledged to keep fighting Syrian regime forces and their allies, casting doubt on the de-escalation agreement, but Ankara has worked to lure militants from it, and two groups have defected from the alliance.

Idlib became one of the most heavily populated areas in Syria after the Assad regime wrestled control of Aleppo from rebels in late 2016, driving displaced Syrians to the province.

Turkey earlier this year wrapped up its months-long Euphrates Shield operation against jihadists and Kurdish militia in the northern Aleppo province that involved both the Turkish army and Syrian rebels.

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