ELBEYLI (TURKEY), -- Turkey and its rebel allies opened a new line of attack in northern Syria on Saturday, as Turkish tanks rolled across the border and Syrian fighters swept in from the west to take villages held by Daesh militant group.
The incursion was launched by Turkey from Kilis province - an area frequently targeted by Daesh rockets - and coincided with a separate push by the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, who seized several villages further to the east.
By supporting the rebels, mainly Arabs and Turkmen fighting under the loose banner of the Free Syrian Army, Turkey is hoping to drive out Daesh militants and check the advance of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The rebels last week took the frontier town of Jarablus with Turkish support. The operation, called Euphrates Shield, is Ankara's first full-scale Syrian incursion since the start of the five-year-old war.
On Saturday the tanks crossed the frontier and entered the Syrian rebel-controlled town of al-Rai to support the new offensive, a rebel spokesman and monitors said.
Al-Rai is about 55 km (34 miles) west of Jarablus, and part of a 90-km corridor near the Turkish border that Ankara says it is clearing of jihadists and protecting from Kurdish militia expansion.
The rebels then seized villages to the east and the south of al-Rai, according to one rebel official.
"They took several villages, about eight villages. At first they took two and withdrew from them, but then reinforcements came and there was an advance," Zakaria Malahifji of the Aleppo-based Fastaqim group said.
The Turkish-backed operation was putting pressure on Daesh from both east and west of a stretch of territory it controls along the border between the towns.
"The operations are to work from al-Rai towards the villages that were liberated to the west of Jarablus," Colonel Ahmed Osman of the Sultan Murad rebel group said.
The Hamza Brigade, also part of the Free Syrian Army, said it had taken control of Arab Ezza, a village about 30 km west of Jarablus and near where Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes on Friday.
FSA factions had also captured the villages of Fursan, Lilawa, Kino and Najma just south of Arab Ezza, according to a source in another rebel group, the Failaq al-Sham.
Turkey's pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper said Turkish air strikes in support of the rebels continued on Saturday.
While Euphrates Shield initially targeted Daesh in Jarablus, most of the focus since has been on checking the advance of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, to the alarm of NATO ally Washington.
Turkey disagrees with its ally's support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it considers a terrorist group. The YPG has been among the most effective partners on the ground in the U.S.-led fight against IS.
In China, to attend the G20 meeting of world leaders, President Tayyip Erdogan said there should be no support for any terrorist organization - a reference to the United States' backing of the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Turkey has said it has no plans to stay in Syria and simply aims to protect its frontier from the militant group and the Kurdish YPG militia.
Source: Nam News Network