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Turkey-backed rebels preparing for battle in Northern Syria

Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters hold the Syrian opposition flag as they walk in the border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province [Khalil Ashawi/ Reuters]

A military council affiliated with Turkish rebel factions in Syria has been conducting military drills in preparation for a Turkish military operation in the city of Tal Rifaat, which is controlled by Kurdish militants, the Al-Monitor news website reported.

Movements on the ground confound the view that Turkey may have placed a planned military operation into northern Syria on the backburner, Al-Monitor’s Sultan al-Kanj, a former Syrian activist, said on Thursday.

Turkey has been deploying soldiers and equipment near the border with Syria and has installed jamming systems for drones, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported, according to Al-Monitor.

A Turkish military convoy, consisting of tanks, artillery, armoured vehicles and troop carriers, entered northern Syria through the Bab al-Salama border gate on July 4 and headed to Turkish bases in Aleppo, the SOHR said. Another convoy crossed at Ayn al-Bayda and travelled to Turkish bases in eastern Idlib and western Aleppo, it said.

“We have drawn up all the plans for the attack and made the necessary preparations. The battle is very close, and we have informed the Turkish side to stay on alert and prepare for a full-blown war,” a leader of the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) told Al-Monitor. “The main battle axis will certainly be the city of Tal Rifaat, which is occupied by the Kurdish forces.”

The pace of preparations for a military operation has increased dramatically over the past four days, said Hisham Askif, a member of the Public Relations Office of the FSA’s Third Legion based in northern Aleppo, according to Al-Monitor.

“We are now in a state of maximum readiness, and we have recently carried out military drills with live ammunition in preparation for the battle,” he said. “We trained and mobilised troops, and our forces took their positions on the front lines, waiting for our signal. The regime recently carried out drills in Tal Rifaat, but we have seen this before; it is unable to clash with the Turkish army, so its forces will withdraw from Tal Rifaat as soon as the battle is announced, which could be any day now.

“All I can say is that we are very close, but we cannot tell the media exactly when the battle will begin,” Askif said.

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