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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish armed forces began reconnaissance activities in Syria's Idlib province on Sunday, the military confirmed on Monday, before an expected military operation in the bitterly contested Syrian northwest.

It said the move involved establishing observation points and that the military was conducting its duties in line with the rules of engagement agreed in the Astana process, referring to an agreement reached last month in the Kazakhstan capital.

Turkey says it will provide assistance to rebels it has long backed, aiming to implement a de-escalation agreement designed to reduce fighting with pro-government forces in the area, the most populous pocket of Syria still in rebel hands.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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