Turkish intelligence, HTS, Turkish-backed faction meet in Syria’s Idlib

IDLIB, Syria (North Press) – Turkish intelligence held a meeting on Sunday with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front) and the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham faction in Idlib Governorate, northwest Syria, in order to discuss re-opening the M4 highway, a security source told North Press.

In Syria’s west, the M4 highway runs from Latakia to Saraqib, southeast of Idlib. It also connects Ariha and Jisr al-Shughur, in the southern and southwestern countryside of Idlib.

The highway’s length in Idlib is 120 km, 100 km of which is under HTS control. The highway reaches Aleppo and, from there, was expanded into a two-lane expressway to Iraq, ending at Mosul.

In October 2019, the highway became a frontline, as Turkish-backed factions advanced into Autonomous Administration-held areas after occupying the cities of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) and Tel Abyad. It remained closed for seven months.

In May 2020, the highway was partially reopened for the first time with the help of Russian mediation. But, since then, the road has been shut down due to sporadic bombing from Turkish-controlled territory.

Turkey tried, through a trilateral meeting, to restore Russian patrols to the highway in order to normalize ties with the Syrian government.

Late in December 2022, a trilateral meeting took place between defense ministers of Turkey, Syria and Russia in Moscow, marking the first high-level meeting between Syria and Turkey since the start of Syrian war in 2011.

Turkey and Syria have been on opposing sides of the 11-year-long war, after Ankara began backing the Syrian opposition and its armed factions that attempted to overthrow the Syrian government.

On January 12, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said that he would meet his Syrian and Russian counterparts, Faisal Mekdad and Sergey Lavrov, respectively, in early February.

The meeting in Idlib on Sunday was attended by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi, a border leader, Abu Muhammad al-Felastini, an official in Idlib’s security forces, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, HTS’ highest-ranking security official, and Abu O’baida al-Shami, leader of the Ahrar al-Sham faction, in addition to other officials and four security officers of Turkish intelligence, according to the source.

They discussed how to secure the highway against possible attacks, in addition to the possibility of opening the Saraqib crossing.

Turkish intelligence members informed HTS that Turkish patrols in the northern countryside of Idlib will start next week in order to monitor the highway. The aim is to prepare a common security plan with local factions to prevent any operations that may target the patrols in the future.

Reporting by Hani al-Salem