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Mar 14 2019

Turkey and Russia strike jihadist weapons, boost cooperation in Syria

Russian warplanes assisted by Turkey bombed the weapons warehouse an al Qaeda-linked militant group in northwest Syria on Wednesday as Moscow and Ankara ramp up coordination in Idlib province.

Carried out with guidance from Turkish intelligence, the strike targeted a store of drones and other weapons that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) planned to use in an attack on the Russian air base at Hmeimim in western Syria, Reuters reported.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma, described the bombing as an “effort to pre-empt attacks on Hmeimim airbase & solidify cooperation on Idlib deal”.

Last September, Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province, with Turkish forces agreeing to drive out extremist groups like HTS. Progress had been slow, with HTS capturing a sizable chunk of Idlib territory in January, but it appears to have picked up this month.

Last week, Turkish and Russian forces began joint patrols around Idlib. On Thursday, Ankara announced a possible shared military outpost in the province.

"We are working on a joint coordination centre," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said after a meeting Wednesday, according to a ministry statement on Thursday.

Turkey and Russia are also coordinating joint patrols around the Syrian town of Tel Rifaat, which is controlled by Kurdish-led forces.