As Turkey kept up its offensive against Syrian Kurdish militants in Afrin for an 11th day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to accelerate efforts for Turkish peacekeepers to deploy deeper into Idlib, where al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) rebels still hold sway. Sources from Erdogan’s presidential palace quoted by Reuters added that the two leaders had discussed the results of a Russian-hosted conference assembling members of the Syrian opposition that was held a day earlier in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Critically, their exchange came a day after a Turkish military convoy was targeted by a car bomb in Idlib. A Turkish civil servant died and a soldier and one other civilian were wounded in the blast, which presages a dangerous new escalation in the nearly seven-year-old conflict. The convoy was reportedly dispatched to honor Turkey’s pledges to deploy troops further south to monitor de-escalation zones in Idlib along the line of contact between HTS rebels and regime forces.