Turkey designates Syria's Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group ahead of Idlib regime assault
Turkey has designated the rebel Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group in Syria as a terrorist organisation, as the Syrian regime prepares for a large-scale military assault in Idlib where the group holds sway.
In recent days, both the government and its ally Russia have stepped up their rhetoric against the rebel presence in Idlib, which is dominated by the Tahrir al-Sham alliance formed by Al-Qaeda's former Syrian branch, al-Nusra Front.
The Turkish presidential decision published on Friday matches a decision by the United Nations in June to add HTS to a list of people and organisations whose assets are frozen due to links to militant groups al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Ankara had already listed al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group.
Idlib and slivers of adjacent provinces form the largest remaining block of rebel territory - and the next expected target of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops and their Russian allies.
But a military assault could overwhelm already struggling health facilities, cut off food and medical supplies to desperate civilians, and prompt massive levels of displacement, the United Nations has warned.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it would be disastrous to seek a military solution in Idlib, despite the presence of militants.
"It is important for all of us to neutralise these radical groups," he said. "But we have to distinguish the civilians from the terrorist groups."
Moscow and Ankara are in talks to try to thrash out a solution that would spare the three million people living in rebel territory.
They include tens of thousands of rebels and civilians evacuated to Idlib from other areas recaptured by regime troops.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a three-way summit in Iran on 7 September.