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Syria-conflict-Turkey-USA,PREV What is happening in the areas of northern Syria under Turkish influence? (QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS) By Rouba EL HUSSEINI =(Photo)=
Beirut, Oct 18, 2022 (AFP) – Fierce fighting has been going on for ten days between pro-Turkish groups in northern Syria and the main jihadist organization, which has gained ground in areas under Ankara’s influence. What are the main groups in this region, what are the relations between Turkey and Hayat Tahrir al-Cham (HTS, ex-Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda) and what does the near future hold?
– Who are the pro-Turkish groups? – The fighting is taking place in the north of the province of Aleppo, in an area bordering Turkey, a country which strongly opposed the regime in Damascus after the outbreak of war in 2011. Ankara began to take the control of this area from 2016, via Syrian rebel groups that were subservient to it and, from 2020, Turkish forces were deployed in bases in the region. About thirty Syrian factions, grouped within the “Syrian National Army” loyal to Ankara, share control of a border area which extends from Jarablus, in the northeast of Aleppo, to Afrine, in the north -west of Aleppo, passing through cities like Al-Bab and Azaz. These groups are accused of abuses by residents, including arbitrary arrests and confiscation of land and property. Amnesty International has even accused certain factions of having committed “war crimes”.
– What role does HTS play? –
In early 2019, HTS took control of half of the neighboring province of Idlib (south of Aleppo), the last major rebel and jihadist stronghold in Syria, after two years of clashes with other factions. After several offensives by government forces against this region which they wanted to retake, a truce agreement was concluded in 2020 by Russia, an ally of the regime, and Turkey. Turkey has deployed troops in this context in Idleb, where it has continued to maintain links with the jihadist group, considered a “terrorist” organization by Washington, which called on Tuesday for the immediate withdrawal of HTS troops from the province of Aleppo. HTS, which announced its break with al-Qaeda in 2016 and is seeking to polish its image with the international community, controls the Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey.
– What is Turkey’s position? – Local residents believe that HTS would not have dared to enter Turkey’s zone of influence without Ankara’s consent. “So far, Turkey has not officially reacted to these fights,” Siraj al-Din al-Shami, spokesman for the Third Legion, a pro-Turkish armed faction, told AFP. “Perhaps that means she has no objection ‘to HTS gaining ground,’ or being faced with a fait accompli,” he added. On Tuesday, however, Turkish troops deployed for the first time since the start of the fighting to come between the belligerents near the town of Azaz. Turkey has shifted its stance on Damascus in recent weeks after having been violently hostile to it since the start of the popular uprising in 2011. For researcher Nawar Oliver, from the Turkey-based Omran Center, the Turks may be seeking to “bet on the most organized group to control the other rebellious factions”. HTS, on the other hand, “wants to send clear signs that it is capable of controlling the region”, he explains. Questions arise, however, about a possible role that Ankara could grant to HTS in the event of new Turkish military operations against the Kurdish armed groups, Turkey’s pet peeve, who control the rest of the border strip further east. . rh/jos/at/vl

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