Idlib assault is off after Turkey and Russian Federation strike deal

Arturo Kim
September 18, 2018

Russian and Turkish troops are to enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syria's Idlib region from which "radical" rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

Jihadist groups, including those of al-Nusra Front, Mr Putin said, would have to leave the zone.

All heavy military equipment tanks, ground-to-air missiles and mortars of all the opposition groups will be removed by October 10, the leaders said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said late Monday that Russia and Assad regime will not take any military action against Idlib.

By the end of the year, transportation routes between the key port of Latakia and Aleppo as well as Latakia and the major city of Hama must be restored, he added.

Idlib is the last bastion of Syria's rebels and concern has been high that a government assault on the city and its surroundings would be catastrophic for civilians. Turkey has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to avert a possible attack. However, Erdogan's call for a cease-fire in Idlib, which borders Turkey, was accepted neither by Russian Federation nor Iran at the tripartite summit in Tehran on September 7.

Turkey has deployed troops at a number of locations in Idlib and has been reinforcing these over recent days. Tanks and other hardware, with a convoy of 50 military vehicles, were sent over the border Sunday, according to the Hurriyet daily.

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The delays any reckoning for what's left of the rebel-held territory, but still appears not to have any specific associated plan for addressing the territorial dispute, nor the presence of a substantial al-Qaeda force in Syria, beyond pushing them back a bit and starting a new buffer zone.

It has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.

The superpower had been preparing itself for an offensive against Idlib.

"We will continue to work on the formation of a constitutional committee consisting of representatives of the Syrian leadership, opposition forces and the civil society", he said.

"We are doing everything to ensure that the civilian population would not suffer", he said.

"Russia and Turkey reaffirmed their determination to fight terrorism in Syria in all its forms and manifestations", Putin said. The crackdown evolved into a complex conflict involving jihadists and world powers.

It was not immediately clear exactly how the deal would be implemented in the province, which is home to more than 3 million Syrians and an estimated 60,000 rebel fighters from various groups.

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