Turkish authorities silent on Afrin's takeover by Al Qaeda offshoot
Turkish authorities has remained silent on Friday after a major Syrian city under Turkish occupation was surprisingly occupied by Al Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and while the factions backed by Ankara either supported HTS or withdrew from the city.
While global news outlets including Reuters, Voice of America, Iran's Press TV and London-based Asharq al-Awsat confirmed the occupation of the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin by HTS, the mainstream Turkish media has almost turned a blind eye to it only with some exceptions. The daily Turkiye, part of the government media, confirmed the takeover, describing HTS as "one of the anti-Assad groups." It said, "HTS entered Afrin that was earlier purged of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] through Operation Olive Branch."
"Turkey allows a restructuring"
Columnist Muharrem Sarikaya noted in mainstream Haberturk that Turkish-backed factions like "al-Hamza division," "Ahrar al-Sham," and "Sultan Murad division" have been supporting HTS, and that these factions have all been "disturbed by the recent rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus."
Sarikaya said that HTS's main objective in occupying Afrin is expanding its dominance in the region through an increasing dominance in economic activities and trade.
Claiming that "Turkey commands the most powerful regular army in the region," He concluded saying:
"It still is the dominant force in the region, and it allows a restructuring. And all these are only convulsions as the region is going into new phase."
"Turkey's consent to the ongoing intervention"
Asharq al-Awsat cited observers who "believe that Turkey's silence and its failure to take a firm military position against the involvement of HTS in the ongoing fighting between the opposition factions, highlights its consent to the ongoing intervention."
"Others noted that HTS’ involvement in the fighting, amid Turkish silence, constituted a threat that would put the SDF [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] and its allies before one option: A Turkish military operation, or a military operation by HTS," it added.
The Kurdish-majority city was occupied by the Turkish military and its proxies in 2018 in a large scale Turkish incursion into Northeast Syria, claimed to be an anti-terror operation.
HTS that was the main affiliate of al-Qaida in Syria until 2018 is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.