Erdogan arms Muslim Brotherhood fighters in Idlib with an array of fresh supplies of weaponry to help them try to repel a major Russian-backed assault. Fighters for the Muslim Brotherhood call themselves The National Liberation Front (NLF).
Russia is backing the Syrian army’s large aerial and ground assault as it seeks to gain control of the last big stretch of rebel-held territory in the northwest of the country.
Assad, backed by Putin, launched the assault last month. Thus triggering a civilian exodus by bombarding Idlib and adjacent areas. It has been the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and his enemies in Idlib province. The area includes pockets of resistance around the city of Hama.
Ankara stepped up supplies in recent days. It happened after failing to persuade Russia it should end its escalation to avert a major influx of refugees into Turkey.
In doing so Turkey signaled its readiness to preserve its influence in northwestern Syria. Recently, Turkey beefed up its troop in a dozen military bases it had set-up under a de-escalation deal with Russia.
Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment.
Overnight, a Turkish military convoy arrived at a base in northern Hama near rebel-held Jabal al Zawiya; an area where Russian and Syrian jets have been pounding for weeks.
FRESH SUPPLIES OF TOW MISSILES
The delivery of dozens of armored vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and so-called TOW missiles, helped roll back some Syrian army gains and retake the strategically located town of Kfar Nabouda, one senior opposition figure said.
The TOW missile had been the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling Assad during the conflict. The US and Arab foes of the Assad regime extended its use until the CIA suspended the program in 2017.
A Western intelligence source said Washington had given a “greenlight” for the Turkey-backed mainstream rebels to use the TOW missiles.
Washington, which has criticized Russia’s latest campaign, also said it saw signs that Assad has used poison gas. It warned that it would respond “quickly and appropriately” if the west can prove its use. The U.S. is pursuing a ceasefire.
A spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), Captain Naji Mustafa, did not confirm or deny any new supplies by Turkey. Mustafa said NLF troops had a big arsenal of weapons; from anti-tank to armored vehicles “alongside material and logistical support by our Turkish brothers”.
The retreat from Kfar Nabouda was an upset to a Russian goal of a speedy military campaign. Its purpose was to gain another slice of heavily populated Idlib province.
A source in touch with Syrian army commanders told Reuters that in the last 24 hours, the Syrian army has been sending large troop reinforcements to the front.
The Syrian army said on Saturday it continued to intensify its attacks on what it called terrorist hideouts in the northwest. The Assad regime and the Muslim Brotherhood have a history of enmity that goes back to the 70’s.
In 1982, the father and uncle to today’s Assad bombed Hama for two weeks killing some 30,000 civilians to flush out 300 Muslim Brotherhood fighters.