Russia & Turkey agree to 'demilitarised zone' in Syria

A poster of Syrian president Bashar al Assad hangs in front of a shop in the old city of Damascus.
By serkan senturk  shutterstock

A poster of Syrian president Bashar al Assad hangs in front of a shop in the old city of Damascus. By serkan senturk shutterstock

SOCHI, Russia - The leaders of Turkey and Russia said on Monday they had agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Syria's Idlib province to separate Syrian government troops from rebel forces, with Turkish and Russian soldiers patrolling the zone to ensure it is respected.

This came after talks between Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who opposed military offence. The Syrian government forces backed by Russian Federation and Iran were preparing an offensive against the rebels' last major stronghold in Idlib, although Turkey and the United States have repeatedly warned against any operation.

Troops from Russian Federation, an ally of Syria's government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, will patrol the zone.

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

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

Both Erdogan and Putin hailed Monday's agreement as a major breakthrough.

The area will require radicalised rebels to withdraw from the city, which is heavily populated.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia September 17, 2018.

Capt. Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed umbrella group of opposition fighters known as the National Front for Liberation, said diplomatic efforts have prevented a wide-offensive on Idlib but that his group still needs to learn the details of the deal.

"I believe that with this memorandum, we have prevented a great humanitarian crisis in Idlib", said Erdogan in comments published by Turkish state media.

Idlib and surrounding areas is home to over 3 million Syrians, and an estimated 60,000 opposition fighters. "In return, we will ensure that the radical groups, which we will determine with Russian Federation, will not operate in the area under discussion", he said.

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.

Putin this month publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a ceasefire there when the two met along with Iran's president for a three-way summit in Tehran.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said the Assad government was determined to drive the Nusra Front, which he described as a terrorist organisation, from Idlib.

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