Monday, 10 December, 2018

Russia, Turkey agree to create buffer zone in Syria's Idlib

Kafranbel was the site of one of several protests in Idlib in defiance of an expected offensive by the Assad regime STR EPA Shutterstock Kafranbel was the site of one of several protests in Idlib in defiance of an expected offensive by the Assad regime
Gerardo Duncan | 18 September, 2018, 08:16

The leaders of Russian Federation and Turkey have agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in the Syrian province of Idlib to separate government and rebel forces.

Territories occupied by the Syrian opposition must be demilitarized, Erdogan said at the press conference, adding that the opposition will remain there but Turkey and Russian Federation will make every effort to eliminate all radical groups from these territories.

Mr Putin said that the zone would be between nine and 12 miles wide between the two factions.

"We've agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15".

The demilitarized zone will come into force by October 15, Putin told reporters. The US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries backing anti-government forces had repeatedly warned Russian Federation and Syria not to launch any new offensive in the region.

"Turkey offered Putin a ladder with which to climb down from the tree, threatening a military offensive in Idlib that had little chance for success", Ahmed Ramadan, a spokesman for the exiled Syrian political opposition, told The Associated Press.

Turkey however backs opposition fighters seeking the ouster of the Syrian leader.

Ankara and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the stabilization of the situation in Idlib's de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are prohibited.

Situated near the Turkish border in Syria's north-west, Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold after seven years of the devastating conflict in the country.

Erdogan and Putin met 10 days ago in Tehran alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where the Turkish leader publicly called for a ceasefire.

The United Nations and non-governmental organizations have repeatedly warned that such an offensive would unleash a "bloodbath" and "humanitarian catastrophe" in Idlib.

It's not clear whether the extremist factions will agree to pull out, or if the Syrian regime and the disparate pro-government militias will abide by the decision.

The province, population 3 million, is now the final shelter for close to 1.5 million displaced Syrians that fled fighting in other parts of Syria.

Syria's other key ally Iran has chosen to stay out of the Idlib showdown to avoid alienating Turkey.

"A head-on attack against [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] now or later would likely destabilize northwest [Syria], prompt a bloody and maybe inconclusive fight, and potentially set off retaliatory attacks inside Turkey", said Sam Heller, a senior analyst on non-state armed groups at the International Crisis Group in Brussels.

"God willing we are feeling optimistic", a 45-year-old Syrian woman said as news of Turkish-Russian agreement emerged.Speaking from Kafr Zeita, a town in Idlib that has been heavily bombed in recent weeks, she asked not to be named for fear of her safety.

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