Erdogan, Macron Discuss Iraq, Syria in Phone Call

The de-escalation zones will be patrolled by military observers but Idlib is by far the most significant

Turkish President 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 (IS) and other terrorists.

"Russia is supporting the operation from the air, and our armed forces from inside Turkey's borders", he added.

"We intend to further enhance our steps in providing safety to Idlib now".

A rebel commander participating in the operation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, that "all the rebel groups" who took part in Euphrates Shield are participating in the latest operation.

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in the Euphrates Shield campaign that Ankara launched in northern Syria past year are ready to cross into northwest Syria from Turkey, Mustafa Sejari, a senior official in the Liwa Al-Mutasem group said.

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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.

Erdogan said that Russian Federation is backing the operation from the air and Turkish soldiers from inside the Turkish border.

Hayat Tahrir Al Sham alliance is led by Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or the Nusra Front, which publicly shed its status as al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate in 2016 and rebranded to head the Hayat Tahrir al Sham amalgam.

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"We will never allow a terror corridor along our borders in Syria", Erdogan said.

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The alliance controls most of the northwestern province of Idlib after expelling former allies earlier this year. "The goal of the operation is to liberate Idlib fully from Tahrir al-Sham".

It said in the statement that Idlib would "not be a picnic" for them and added "the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce".

Air raids on insurgent-held towns in that area in recent days were intense, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, reported. It said the operation was yet to formally begin. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad's ouster.

Idlib's population has ballooned to at least two million as thousands of civilians and combatants have left areas seized by the Syrian army in other parts of the country, with the help of Russian jets and Iran.

"When you enter a boxing match, you don't count how many punches you throw", he said.

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