Syria’s Idlib and the Russia-Turkey deal

Accra, Sept. 18 – (DPA/GNA) – A deal between
Russian and Turkey to set up a demilitarized zone in Idlib seems to have
averted what was described as potential “humanitarian nightmare” for
the region.

Here are some key aspects of the deal and the
current status in Idlib:

Q: What are the key stages of the agreement?

A: A demilitarized zone will be established in
Idlib to separate government and rebel forces by October 15. The rebels will
hand over their heavy weapons under the supervision of Russia and Turkey by
November 10. Syrian state institutions will return to Idlib by the end of the
year after the handover of all weapons and the evacuation of armed groups from
the residential areas.

Q: Why was Turkey keen to avert the offensive?

A: Turkey had been seeking to prevent a battle
in Idlib, near its border, as Syrian state troops backed by Russian air power
have been poised for an invasion. A battle over Idlib could drive many of its
estimated 3 million civilians northwards into Turkey. 

There are 3.54 million Syrians already
registered as under “temporary protection” in Turkey, according to
the Directorate General of Migration Management. Nearly 564,000 of them are in
Istanbul; only 5 per cent (202,358) live in 16 refugee camps in border
provinces.

Q: What about international concerns prior to
the deal?

A: The United Nations Secretary General
Antonio Guterres had warned that a failure to avoid a full-scale battle for
Idlib would unleash “a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the
blood-soaked Syrian conflict” so far. The UN said as many as 800,000 people
could have been displaced.

Q: Why does Idlib matter to the Syrian
government?

A: The north-western province is the last
major stronghold of the rebel groups that have been trying to topple Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad over the past seven years. It borders Latakia
province, a main stronghold of al-Assad and home to the biggest Russian airbase
in the country. It also borders Turkey, a backer of rebels fighting against
al-Assad.

If Idlib falls to the government, the rebels
will be left with just a few pockets of territory scattered across the country.

Q: What are the major rebel groups in Idlib?

A: The dominant force is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
(HTS), an Islamist alliance led by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group. The group is
designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.

The National Liberation Front NLF, is a Syrian
rebel coalition identifying as part of the Free Syrian Army. It was officially
announced on 28 May 2018. The formation receives major support from Turkey.

GNA

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