ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is working to set up camps to settle 170,000 displaced people near the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib and in Turkish-controlled areas to the east of it, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies hold a swathe of land in Idlib, one of the last remaining pockets of the country still in the hands of insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds of thousands of opponents of Assad from other parts of Syria have fled there.
“The Turkish Red Crescent and AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Authority) started preparations to set up camps to host 170,000 people near Idlib and the areas of (the) Euphrates Shield Operation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told a news conference in Ankara.
Turkey completed a previous offensive, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, against Islamic State militants and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) rebels in northwestern Syria in early 2017.
The initiative for displaced people around Idlib, in territory Turkish forces entered last year, is separate from an offensive Turkey launched six weeks ago in Afrin, another part of northern Syria held by Kurdish YPG militia.
Ankara regards the YPG as associated with Kurdish PKK insurgents fighting in southeastern Turkey since 1984.
Turkey has been working to set up military observation points in Idlib as part of a “de-escalation” agreement with Assad’s allies Iran and Russia. Under that deal, Ankara is to set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and neighboring areas.
Though the deal largely collapsed in December when the Syrian army, along with Iran-backed militias and heavy Russian air power, launched a big offensive to take territory in Idlib province and surrounding areas, the Turkish army said it had so far established six observation posts in the region.
Writing by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Mark Heinrich