AMMAN, Feb 18 – At least 2,000 Syrian rebel fighters have re-entered the country from Turkey over the last week to reinforce insurgents fending off an assault by Syrian Kurdish-led militias, rebel sources said on Thursday.
The rebel fighters, with weapons and vehicles, have been covertly escorted across the border by Turkish forces over several nights, before heading into the embattled rebel stronghold of Azaz, the sources said.
“We have been allowed to move everything from light weapons to heavy equipment mortars and missiles and our tanks,” Abu Issa, a commander in the Levant Front, the rebel group that runs the border crossing of Bab al-Salam, told Reuters giving his alias and talking on condition of anonymity.
“There is tight security on the four-hour drive from one border crossing to the other,” he added, saying rebels being transported excluded the hardline Nusra Front fighters and other jihadist groups.
On Sunday, the Syrian government had said Turkish forces were among 100 gunmen who had entered Syria accompanied by 12 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, in an ongoing supply operation to insurgents.
The route across Turkey has become the only path for rebels to their north Aleppo enclave after recent Syrian army advances closed the main route into rebel territory.
The UK’s Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence across the war torn-country, also confirmed that hundreds of rebel fighters had already crossed with weapons via a border crossing into Azaz.
Another rebel source said the Turkish military have stepped up delivery of munitions and heavy military hardware in the last two days to bolster rebels facing the major offensive launched by the Syrian army and its allies.
The assault has helped the Syrian army come within 25 miles of the Turkish border for the first time in over two years.
The rapid advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.