Russia, Turkey to establish demilitarized zone in Idlib

Minnie Murray
September 18, 2018

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.

The leaders of Russian Federation and Turkey announced a plan Monday to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria's Idlib province, in an effort to avert a looming military offensive that aid groups say would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

He also noted that what he called "radically-minded rebels" - including the Nusra front - would have to pull out of the zone.

It has killed an estimated 360,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

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

Turkey, which shares a 560-mile border with Idlib province, worked to rally worldwide support for a solution, saying that an assault would trigger a wave of refugees into Europe.

Erdogan described the agreement as a "solution" to the issues in the region. "The territory that is controlled by the Syrian army and opposition is to be demilitarized", he said.

Following the memo signing, Putin said he would "soon hold additional consultations" with his Syrian allies, who had been counting on Russian support to retake the province.

Ahmed Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian political opposition in exile, said the agreement offered Russian Federation a chance to walk back its threat against Idlib and represented a success for diplomatic pressure from Turkey and the United States, which was also against an offensive. That was one of the government's strategic aims in an offensive in Idlib.

The demilitarized zone will come into force by October 15, Putin told reporters. "The Turkish and USA serious pressures were the reason behind Russian Federation abstaining from the offensive and offering an air cover which means Iran alone won't be able to carry out the offensive with the overstretched forces of the Assad regime". "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. "Turkey is in a strong position".

"The demilitarized zone will be monitored by mobile patrol groups of Turkish units and units of Russian military police".

Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed rebel group Faylaq al-Sham, thanked Erdogan for preventing an offensive and giving the rebels time to defend their rebellion and people.

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