Turkish troops on Sunday exchanged fire with Syria-based Takfiri militants as Ankara massed military vehicles on the frontier ahead of an expected operation in Idlib province.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced the launch of an operation by pro-Ankara Syrian militant forces, backed by the Turkish army, to re-impose security in Idlib.
Most of the northwestern region is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Nusra Front.
Turkey has massed special forces and military hardware including tanks on the border but the operation has yet to begin in earnest, monitors and sources on the ground said.
But Turkish forces fired seven mortars over the border with the aim of easing the passage of the pro-Ankara Syrian forces, the Dogan news agency reported.
Turkish forces have also been seen removing parts of the security wall Ankara has built on the border so that military vehicles can pass through into Syria.
Pro-government Turkish media said that the operation was now into its “second day” and it was not immediately clear what the Turkish military’s next move would be.
On Sunday morning, HTS militants opened fire on Turkish forces removing part of a wall along the border between Turkey and Idlib, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
The Observatory reported “heavy exchanges of fire”, but said the incident did not appear to mark the start of the operation Erdogan described on Saturday.
Turkish armored vehicles and troops were waiting on the border, from where smoke could be seen from the mortar fire, an AFP photographer said.