Syria Deeply: Turkey enters Idlib, battling ISIS in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa, and a new report of sarin gas in northern Syria

Syria Deeply
Oct. 9th, 2017
This Week in Syria.

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Turkey Enters Idlib: Turkish troops moved into Idlib province on Sunday in an effort to enforce a de-escalation zone in the province dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants, according to a Turkish military statement released Monday.

Turkish forces were deployed to carry out “reconnaissance activities” in the area, including the creation of “observation points” in the northwestern province, according to the Associated Press.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the “serious” military operation in Idlib on Saturday, adding that Turkish-backed Syrian rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army are leading the campaign. The following day, Erdogan said Turkish troops would also be deployed in the province to support opposition forces.

On Saturday, bulldozers dismantled border walls to allow for the passage of military vehicles. Reuters reported on Sunday that al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militants escorted Turkish forces who are part of a military reconnaissance team to the area, where they “scouted” ahead of a planned deployment.

Battles Against ISIS: Pro-government forces allegedly encircled the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in the city of al-Mayadeen on Sunday, as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to launch the final stage of the battle against ISIS in Raqqa.

“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir al-Zor [Ezzor] and its countryside … and encircle Daesh terrorists in the city of al-Mayadin,” an unnamed military source told Reuters, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Losing al-Mayadeen, which is on the western banks of the Euphrates river, would be a big blow to the militant group.

Pro-government forces advanced to within 7 miles (10km) of al-Mayadeen last week, and by Friday reportedly entered the militants stronghold and seized control of several buildings with support from Russian airstrikes, according to AFP. However, on Sunday ISIS militants repelled pro-regime advances.

In Raqqa, the SDF has captured around 90 percent of the city and is advancing from the city’s north and east in an attempt to close in on ISIS militants holed up in a pocket of territory near the city center.

If the forces advancing from the north link up with those moving in from the east, then the SDF can begin its final push in Raqqa, which will focus on areas around Raqqa’s national hospital, the nearby football stadium and surrounding residential neighborhoods, an SDF commander told AFP.

New Report of Sarin Attack: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has collected evidence that sarin nerve agent was used in an attack on the rebel-held village of Latamneh in northern Syria, just five days before the major chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

“Analysis of samples collected (by the OPCW) … relates to an incident that took place again in the northern part of Syria on the 30th of March this year,” Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the OPCW, said in an interview with AFP. “The results prove the existence of sarin.”

The attack allegedly wounded 50 people, he said, adding that there were no immediate reports of any deaths. These findings disprove the claim that the April attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, which killed at least 87 people, was the first time sarin had been used since the 2013 gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus.

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