Turkish troops deploy to Syrian town to end fighting between rebels

AMMAN, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Turkish troops deployed to an area of ​​northwestern Syria on Tuesday in an attempt to end fighting between rival rebel factions opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, witnesses said and rebel forces.

Turkish tanks and armored vehicles took up positions around Kafr Jana, a rugged area whose main jihadist rebel group Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) seized on Monday from two rival factions belonging to an Ankara-backed coalition of rebel forces .

Turkey’s military and security officers have been working to bring warring factions back to the negotiating table to implement a peace deal reached last Saturday that has led to a one-day respite after five days of clashes that resulted in dozens of deaths on both sides.

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“Turkey has now intervened to stop the conflict and prevent Hayat Tahrir al Sham from progressing and to bring the two sides to the negotiating table to implement the agreement,” Waiel Olwan, a former Turkey official, told Reuters. opposition in contact with both parties.

Tensions have been building in the opposition-controlled northwest, mainly over ideological differences between militant Islamists and more nationalist armed factions.

Monday’s renewed fighting was sparked by mutual accusations that the two sides had reneged on the Turkey-brokered deal that saw jihadist fighters withdraw from the city of Afrin, which they seized from traditional rebels . These rebels also agreed to return to their barracks away from populated towns.

Turkey fears that HTS’s grip on much of the insurgent enclave could give Moscow a free hand to renew the bombardment of an area that is home to more than 3 million displaced Syrians who have fled the Assad regime under the pretext of fighting extremist jihadists.

Russian fighters have stepped up strikes in the region in recent days in a message from Moscow that it will strike with impunity in areas that are now under the jihadist group’s wider influence, three rebel commanders said.

Washington, which is waging a coalition campaign that has killed extremist jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda in northern Syria in recent years, has demanded a return to the status quo.

“We are alarmed by the recent incursion of HTS, a designated terrorist organization, into northern Aleppo. HTS forces should be withdrawn from the area immediately,” the US Embassy in Damascus said.

Turkey’s large military presence, with thousands of troops stationed at a series of bases in northwestern Syria, had prevented Russian-backed Syrian forces from seizing the rebel-held area.

The rebels said the jihadist group, which has expanded its influence since fighting broke out in the Afrin region, was now positioned several kilometers from the border town of Azaz, the administrative center of the backed opposition government. by Turkey.

A senior coalition official fighting HTS said they had hardened positions around the town to repel any attempt by the jihadists to seize it.

Azaz has seen street demonstrations against the entry of jihadists over the past two days.

Many residents fear a takeover by jihadists who run an effective civilian administration in the Idlib region, their main stronghold, but rule with an iron fist.

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Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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