Turkish Officials Meet with HTS Leadership in Idlib

The Cradle
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The Turkish officials reportedly informed HTS of Ankara’s plans regarding the future of the M4 international highway

According to a 31 January report published by Al-Akhbar, Turkish military and security officials held a recent meeting in Idlib, Syria, with leaders in the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) extremist group regarding the future of the M4 international highway, which is partly under the control of the former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Despite the meeting being “shrouded in secrecy,” it was revealed that Ankara informed the group’s leadership of its intention to carry out patrols on the HTS-controlled section of the M4 (Aleppo-Lattakia) road, which “may be followed by joint patrols with Russia, and later with Syria.”

This is part of a recently announced Turkish-led initiative to officially reopen the M4 international highway “as a first step to openness with Damascus.” Control over the M4 highway is divided between Syria, Russia, Turkiye, and HTS.

Last week, The Cradle received exclusive information that the Syrian, Russian, and Turkish militaries – in coordination with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) coalition – may soon be forced to launch an inevitable joint operation to clear HTS from the M4 international highway. If true, this indicates Ankara’s seriousness in abandoning the Syrian opposition in favor of a rapprochement with Damascus.

Meanwhile, Al-Akhbar reported that HTS is currently attempting to consolidate its foothold in the northern Syrian town of Afrin, which it is partly in control over. HTS is also reportedly interested in establishing influence over the main border crossings – particularly the Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkiye – for economic purposes.

According to the report, HTS has been “engaged in vigorous attempts to liquidate the remaining ‘jihadist’ groups in Idlib by opening the door for them to exit from Syria towards Ukraine.”  However, due to the pressure exerted by HTS on these factions, they have been relocating from Idlib to the Aleppo countryside and forming ‘small groups’ and ‘cells.’ This further complicates the situation in northern Syria, Al-Akhbar reports.

The relocation and concentration of these factions in the Aleppo countryside will “create a suitable atmosphere for the renewal of armed conflict in the region,” it adds.