Erdogan, Putin agree to de-militarised zone in Syria's Idlib

Saul Bowman
September 18, 2018

He agreed with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the buffer zone during a more than four hour meeting in Sochi, southern Russian Federation.

Asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad's government agreed with the Putin-Erdogan plan, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters in Sochi that "in the coming hours, we will agree with them on all the positions put forth in this document".

Putin said the demilitarized zone would be enforced by patrols of Turkish forces and Russian military police.

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Putin made the announcement after lengthy talks with Erdogan in the Russian city of Sochi.

Turkey however backs opposition fighters seeking the ouster of the Syrian leader, and has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus toward its border.

During this process, the Western powers and Turkey have expressed dismay and rejection of such an offensive in Idlib, talking about a possible new influx of refugees to Turkey and Europe and the negative repercussion of a new wave of refugees, taking into consideration that foreign jihadists might infiltrate the ranks of civilians and reach Europe.

Jan Egeland, adviser to the United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said: "Hope at long last for 3 million Syrian civilians in Idlib: Russia and Turkey agree on plan that may avert horrific war among displaced people".

"Hope at long last for 3 million Syrian civilians in Idleb: Russia and Turkey agree on plan that may avert horrific war among displaced people", Egeland wrote on Twitter.

And by the end of the year transportation routes between Latakia and Aleppo, and Latakia and Hama must be restored, he said. With Turkish backing, they are now gathered under "the National Front for Liberation".

More than 300 doctors and nurses rallied Sunday in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, urging the global community to protect them against an expected offensive by president Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The two leaders agreed to create a buffer zone in the province to separate Syrian government troops from rebel forces, with Turkish and Russian soldiers patrolling the zone to ensure it is respected.

Erdoğan said Syrian Kurdish fighters in the YPG east of the Euphrates river posed the biggest threat for Syria's future.

"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.

"But together with Russian Federation, we will put our efforts into clearing those territories of radical elements", he said.

"There will be no solution in Syria without Assad's fall", read another banner carried in the northern village of Mhambel, reported The Associated Press.

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