The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) was told by Turkey to prepare for the possible movement of a large contingent of fighters into Syria’s Idlib province, reported the pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak on Monday.
According to the report, Ankara ordered the FSA to draft reports on the opposition forces’ personnel, the existing weapons and ammunition. If needed, roughly 20,000 armed FSA members will be transferred to Idlib, where they will join the other divisions of the armed opposition already stationed there. The FSA has a total of 50,000 soldiers in Syria, 30,000 of which will be in Idlib after the transfer.
In recent weeks, the Turkish command has pulled additional armored vehicles, artillery, multiple launch systems and personnel to the Syrian border. An increased Turkish presence has also been observed on the Idlib province’s border, where Ankara has set up 12 observation points in order to monitor the de-escalation zone.
Turkey is opposed to the holding of a large-scale counter-terrorist operation in Idlib, fearing that this will result in a new wave of refugees from this region into its territory. Turkey has also called for a distinction to be made between terrorists and peaceful civilians, a ceasefire in Idlib, and for the FSA and other members of the moderate opposition to be considered legitimate partners in the dialog on Syria’s future.
Idlib is the last remaining region of Syria controlled by non-government armed groups. If Damascus regains control of the province, it would essentially mean the end of the large-scale military conflict in the country.