Turkey says major operation underway in Syria's Idlib

Calling the operation a "new step" to establish security in Idlib, he promised Turkey would not desert civilians there.

Responding to journalists' questions after the televised speech, Erdogan said Turkish soldiers were not yet in Idlib and the military was backing Free Syrian Army forces from within Turkey's borders.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkish soldiers were not in Syria's Idlib yet, but that Free Syria Army was carrying out the operation, news channel NTV reported.

The US maintains that the group is still linked to al Qaeda, however.

Mr Erdogan said Turkish troops were not yet inside Idlib.

The province is dominated by jihadist groups and Mr Erdogan has said he will not allow a "terror corridor" on the Turkish border.

He also vowed support for "our brothers in Idlib", who left Aleppo for Idlib, apparently referring to militants who left the city freed by the Syrian army in December 2016 as a result of an agreement backed by Russian Federation.

"Now this step has been taken, and it is underway", he said, adding that Turkish forces were not yet involved at that it was a rebel operation so far.

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Elements of Turkish Armed Forces, also known as TSK, will be positioned within the borders of the tension reduction zone determined for Idlib.

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". It said the operation was yet to formally begin.

The Turkish president has announced plans to start a new military operation in Syria in a move which has been rumored for weeks. "The goal of the operation is to liberate Idlib fully from Tahrir al-Sham".

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

UPFRONT: Has the Syrian opposition lost the war?

The Syrian Observatory in the last week has repeatedly accused Syria and Russian Federation of carrying out deadly air strikes in Idlib province with heavy civilian losses.

The Russian defence ministry said Saturday some 120 ISIL fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian air strikes in Syria over the past 24 hours. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad's ouster.

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