Two Salafi-jihadi factions in Syria’s Idlib province have been engaged in a brutal inter-“rebel” (or rather inter-jihadist) war this week, prompting Turkey to prepare a potential invasion to protect its favored factions on the ground. On Thursday, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS/Al-Qaeda) continued to capture towns in Idlib’s countryside from rival Ahrar al-Sham and Turkish backed FSA groups after an uneasy truce between the rebel factions quickly collapsed days prior, causing the weaker Ahrar al-Sham to call in Turkish support.
Multiple reports coming out of the region indicate that Turkey has been transferring hundreds of jihadists from its former Euphrates Shield forces in northern Aleppo province (the Turkish occupied “Jarabulus pocket”) to Turkey’s Hatay border region, where they began entering Idlib through the Ahrar controlled Bab al-Hawa crossing. However, in the early morning hours of Friday HTS reportedly captured part of the Bab al-Hawa crossing in a significant blow that could trigger a bigger Turkish response. A larger force may be awaiting word from Ankara for a full scale invasion involving Turkish Army troops which might come at any moment.
What is certain is that things are about to get even bloodier, and either Turkey will occupy yet more Syrian land, or the Syrian Army will eventually move in to mop up Idlib once the warring groups have depleted and utterly exhausted each other. The latter scenario is a likely possibility given increased Russian leverage over Turkish actions: Turkey would have to seek a nod from Moscow before occupying Idlib overtly. So far, Turkey’s proxy forces are being swallowed up by the more formidable HTS.
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