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article imageOp-Ed: Airstrikes hit lead vehicle of Turkish convoy in Idlib Syria

By Ken Hanly     Aug 20, 2019 in World
Turkish officials are angry at reports that one of their military convoys had been attacked in northern Syria while advancing on a town to make a delivery. The town was held by an al-Qaeda affiliated group. The attack was by a military airstrike.
Attack claimed to have killed three civilians
One report says the attack killed a rebel from a Turkish-supported group and was by the Russians: "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said a rebel vehicle leading the convoy was struck by a Russian air strike just outside Maaret al-Numan, 15 kilometres north of Khan Sheikhoun, killing a fighter from the Turkey-backed Faylaq al-Sham group."
Khan Sheikhoun is a key town that Syria is attempting to retake. The Turkish Defense Ministry claimed that attack killed three civilians and wounded 12 others.
Turkey claims that the strike is a violation of the Turkish-Russian military agreements
A recent report notes a Turkish Defense Ministry statement: “Despite repeated warnings we made to the authorities of the Russian Federation, the military operations by the regime forces continue in Idlib region in violation of the existing memorandums and agreements with the Russian Federation,” the ministry said in a statement."
The problem is that an Al-Qaeda affiliated group controls much of Idlib province where the agreement applies but it is not part of the agreement and rejects it in fact. As a result Russia feels that attacking the group does not violate the agreement. The convoy was meant to provide relief to the town controlled by the group. The attack did not target the Turkish units in the convoy but the lead rebel vehicle. Although the rebel vehicle was not part of the Al Qaeda-linked group they obviously were in effect supporting them as is the Turkish relief. The military agreements are of limited use in such situations and there are bound to be differences about their application. Turkish supported groups and Turkish units themselves are operating in areas controlled by a radical group linked to al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. As a recent article reports: "On 1 August 2019, the Syrian government declared that it would it halt its operation on Idlib on the next day. In response, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) stated that the truce allegedly proved "the failure of the criminal regime’s military operation against the liberated north."[70] In response to HTS refusal to agree to a ceasefire, the Syrian Army resumed the offensive on August 5, capturing several villages in southern Idlib with the aim of seizing Khan Sheykun." So the military agreement does not apply to HTS.
Turkey is desperate to try and keep Syria from regaining more territory and defeating the rebels. The fact that the area is controlled by a radical Al-Qaeda linked group appears to make little difference. There is no way Turkey is going to avoid all conflict with the Russians who support Syria if it continues with the same policy.
Turkey has also invaded nearby Kurdish-controlled territory. It has ended up fighting both the Kurdish YPG and Syrian forces.
The convoy was too late to save Khan Sheikhoun
Syrian forces already have taken Khan Sheikhoun according to a recent report that militants withdrew from the town after heavy airstrikes and artillery bombardment: "As the militants withdrew, government troops moved into northern and western neighborhoods of Khan Sheikhoun, marking a significant gain for President Bashar Assad’s forces as they try to chip away at territory controlled by the opposition in Idlib. The northwestern province, dominated by an al-Qaida-linked faction, is the last major rebel-held bastion in Syria." The rebels said they carried out a re-deployment to south of the town where they will continue to resist Syrian advances.
It seems that the Turkish convoy was too late. Given the circumstances they can expect that they will face even more attacks from Russian and regime airstrikes if they continue with their policy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Turkey Syria relations, Idlib province, Hayat Tahrir AlSham
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