Turkey steps in to expel HTS militia from northwest Syria's Afrin
Turkish forces have moved to expel members of the Islamist Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militia from the northwest Syrian city of Afrin and its surrounding areas, military sources told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.
The Turkish army have put up concrete barriers at crossings in rural areas south of Afrin that connect the area to Idlib, the stronghold of the HTS, sources from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
Turkish soldiers stationed at checkpoints are also searching and verifying the identities of people entering Afrin to prevent disguised HTS members from entering the area, the sources said.
The Turkish army expelled a number of HTS members who tried to move through a checkpoint north of Afrin dressed in military police uniform, according to the sources.
The move to expel the HTS comes after the hardline Islamist militia overran parts of northwest Syria's Afrin and Azaz districts earlier this month.
Afrin had been under the control of the SNA, who with Turkey seized the area from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in 2018.
After deadly clashes, the HTS and SNA agreed to a preliminary truce, through which Afrin would be jointly administered by the two groups and most HTS personnel would leave the area.
However, fresh clashes broke out earlier this week when the HTS launched a offensive in the area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that a total of 58 people had been killed in fighting.
That attack appeared to compel Turkey to step in in defence of its allied forces, with Ankara giving the HTS until dawn on Thursday to withdraw from Afrin.
Some, though not all, HTS forces had withdrawn from the area in response to Turkish demands. However, forces allied to the HTS were kept in place, stoking fears that the group could easily return.
Protests took place across northern Syria on Friday, calling for an end to the group's seizure of the Afrin area.
Both the US and Russia have criticised Turkey for its alleged laxity regarding the HTS offensive on Afrin.
Both have reportedly put pressure on Ankara to act against the group, which was formerly affiliated to Al-Qaeda and is still designated as a terrorist organisation by several states including the US, the UK and Turkey.