Idlib in northern Syria is one of the largest strongholds of terrorist groups and Syrian militias backed by arms, training and funding from the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with other factions that are not clearly hostile to Ankara, the foremost of which is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
Support for terrorism continues
Turkey continues to support terrorist factions in Idlib in order to mobilize loyalty and use them as a card to be played whenever Ankara wants. Turkish support for terrorists located near Jabal al-Zawiya in the countryside of Idlib has included armored vehicles, Grad missile launchers and TOW anti-tank missiles, in addition to weapons, ammunition and equipment for HTS and its affiliated groups in Idlib and the northern Hama countryside.
Since the emergence of HTS in Syria seven years ago, the bridges of communication between it and the Turkish regime have expanded, and the terrorist organization has enabled Ankara to be stationed in areas in Idlib by deploying military convoys 40 km away from each other in what is known as the de-escalation zone.
Before HTS announced its separation from al-Qaeda, it handed over key points in the Aleppo countryside to Ankara, in addition to facilitating the deployment of dozens of vehicles belonging to the Turkish army in Idlib.
For his part, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that Turkey occupies parts of Syrian territory and that its forces are now protecting HTS and other terrorist groups. He stressed that Idlib is a Syrian governorate and that terrorist organizations there will be eliminated, adding that all foreign forces illegally present in Syria must leave.
Muallem confirmed in press statements that HTS controls most of Idlib governorate and uses civilians as human shields, adding that it is the right and duty of the Syrian state to rid its citizens of terrorism by fighting organizations that the entire world, including the UN Security Council, recognizes as terrorist, such as HTS.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Turkey last March of not abiding by the terms of the memorandum of understanding that was agreed with his country on stabilizing the situation in the de-escalation zone in Idlib.
“The agreement with Ankara on the establishment of the demilitarized zone and the withdrawal of all militants and heavy weapons has not been fully implemented,” he said, demanding that the Turks fulfill their obligations under the agreement that was signed on September 17, 2018.
Meeting of devils
In mid-March, Syrian Representative to the UN Bashar Jaafari disclosed a meeting organized by the Turkish intelligence in Idlib and attended by HTS and other terrorist organizations, documenting his speech with pictures and noting the support of foreign countries for terrorism in Syria.
“A meeting was held in Idlib under the auspices of Turkish intelligence, which included representatives of HTS, Jaysh al-Izza (Army of Glory), Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham and Jaysh al-Ahrar and was headed by HTS leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani,” he said.
Jaafari stressed that this meeting “refutes what has been promoted during the past years regarding the so-called moderate Syrian opposition, as it proves once again the support provided by the governments of countries supporting terrorism to these terrorist organizations.”
Some of the people in the picture sitting next to Julani, who controls 99% of the Idlib region, had also attended the Astana meetings sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey, Jaafari pointed out.
Jaafari reiterated Syria’s position rejecting the presence of any foreign military forces on its soil without the approval of the Syrian government, adding that Damascus would deal with those forces on the basis of considering their presence as “aggression and occupation”.
Shipping to Tripoli
The sabotage in Idlib did not stop at the military support for armed factions, but these militants became a card for Erdogan to play at any time. Idlib became a terrorist hatchery for Ankara to send to Libya to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) militias in Tripoli, in an attempt to block the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) progress since it launched Operation Karama to liberate the capital from militias and terrorist groups.
On April 29, Erdogan promised GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj to use all his capabilities to support the militias. Following this, in mid-May, Ankara sent a plane loaded with drones. Within a month, the LNA succeeded in destroying four of them before they could carry out bombing operations on LNA positions. Turkey also sent ship loaded with 40 Kirpi armored vehicles, along with terrorists from Idlib to fight alongside the GNA.
In late May 2020, Turkey sent a C-130 cargo plane to Misrata Airport with experts to train the militias, in addition to an integrated operations room. The Libyan Air Force succeeded in destroying the main control room for Turkish aircraft at Mitiga airbase, east of Tripoli.
In the wake of Ankara’s blatant interference in Libya, the LNA took punitive measures against Turkey’s violations in Libya, the most important of which was the targeting of Turkish warships and aircraft located in Libyan territorial waters, in addition to stopping all flights from Libya to Turkey and vice versa, as well as arresting Turks in Libya.