President Erdogan says Turkey helps militant group's offensive in Idlib

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The Turkish president said the major offensive was the follow-up of the so-called Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria, which was launched in August previous year without granting any permission from Damascus, in a declared objective of clearing Turkey's southern border of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group. "The necessary step was taken, and it is ongoing", Erdogan said.

He later told reporters the operation was led by so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants and that the Turkish army was "not yet" operating inside Syria.

"We can now say that all military actions are being coordinated by these two parties", Oytun Orhan, an expert on the Middle East, told Sputnik Turkey.

Last week, a USA consulate employee in Istanbul was arrested on charges of links to a cleric blamed for last year's failed coup, a move condemned by Washington as baseless and damaging to ties between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

The main objective of the operation is to establish a "de-escalation" zone in the province of Idlib.

In his speech, Erdogan said: "Idlib is a region where we will provide protection in the inside and Russian Federation on the outside".

Late on Saturday, Turkey deployed tanks and military vehicles on its Syrian border, building up military presence, the report added.

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He pointed out that bringing peace to Syria requires both military and political actions, and now there are three countries, namely Russia, Turkey and Iran, that can resolve the Syrian crisis. The zone would be monitored by Turkish soldiers.

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.

And it has seen its ranks rapidly depleted in advance of the expected Turkish operation, with its coalition now effectively reduced back down to Fateh Al Sham.

Afer those talks Putin declared the right conditions now existed to end the over six-year civil war that has killed an estimated 330,000 people since 2011.

Airstrikes were reported in parts of Idlib on Saturday, follows a month of heavy bombardment of the province by Russian Federation and the Syrian regime killing scores of civilians.

Syria's former Al Qaeda affiliate was once a key ally for many rebels but they are now abandoning it as the jihadists face a Turkey-backed operation in its stronghold.

Three of the safe zones have been created to date in Syria's central province of Homs, in the Eastern Ghouta area of the southern Rif Dimashq province, and a southwestern militant-controlled stretch along the border with Jordan.