Syrian rebels see Putin-Erdogan deal on Idlib as victory

Vladimir Putin (R) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) following their talks in the Bocharov Ruchei residence, Sochi, 17 September.

Syrian opposition officials praised a deal between Russia and Turkey over Idlib province on Tuesday, saying it had spared the rebel-held region a bloody government offensive and would thwart President Bashar al-Assad’s aim of recovering all Syria, news wires reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed at a summit on Monday to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib from which “radical” rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.

The agreement has diminished the prospects of a Syrian government offensive which the UN warned would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about 3m people.

“The Idlib deal preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria,” Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, told Reuters. “This area will remain in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and will force the regime and its supporters to start a serious political process that leads to a real transition that ends Assad’s rule,” Sejari said.

The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represents the Syrian opposition’s last big foothold in Syria, where Iranian and Russian military support has helped Assad recover most of the areas once held by the insurgency. But strong Turkish opposition to an Idlib attack has obstructed government plans for an offensive, and the agreement announced on Monday appears to preserve a role for Turkey in the northwest - something seen as anathema to Assad.

The demilitarized zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the leaders said on Monday. Neither Putin not Erdogan explained how they planned to differentiate “radically-minded” rebels from other anti-Assad groups.


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