Assad regime continues to attack opposition in Idlib, undermining Sochi deal
SYRIAN regime forces attacked moderate opposition groups in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib on Friday, killing 23 people in spite of the Sochi deal that was signed between Turkey and Russia to ease the tension in the region through demilitarization.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced the attack, saying that some of the heaviest fighting in the country’s northwest in a year took place between the regime and opposition forces.
The Bashar Assad regime attacked insurgents near Halfaya village overnight, seizing some positions, the U.K.-based war monitoring group said. At least 23 members of the Jaish al-Izza faction of the opposition died in ambushes, and dozens more were wounded, the highest casualty toll of fighters in the northwest in many months, it said. Jaish al-Izza is one of the opposition groups that operate under the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In September, Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, following a meeting in the Russian city of Sochi between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Turkey and Russia also signed a memorandum of understanding at the meeting calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited. Under the deal, a 15 to 20-square-kilometer demilitarized area was established to separate Bashar Assad regime troops and the Syrian opposition in Idlib. According to the deal, moderate opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will carry out joint patrols in the area to ward off renewed fighting. The Turkey-Russia deal also calls for the removal of all members of Syrian radical groups from the demilitarized zone.
Moderate opposition groups have left the designated military zone and their heavy weaponry, yet radical groups have not yet announced that they agree with the deal.
Several deadly skirmishes have occurred since the deal, but 22 is the highest number of known fatalities in a single incident inside the planned buffer zone, the Syrian Observatory said.
MOSCOW: SOCHI DEAL
Meanwhile, Russia stated that work to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib continues and that it is too soon to say that the process has been completed.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mariya Zaharova said on Friday that although there has been practical success implementing the deal, the process still continues. She emphasized that extremist groups, such as al-Nusra Front, a former Al-Qaeda affiliate that is recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, still engage in provocation activities to prevent forming a demilitarized area.
The Sochi deal is not the first attempt by Turkey and Russia to stabilize Syria. The Astana peace process was launched by Russia, Iran and Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to find a political solution foreseen in U.N. sponsored peace talks in Geneva. The Astana process resulted in an agreement by the three guarantor countries to implement four “de-escalation” zones. The partial cease-fire, however, was short-lived. Regime forces backed by Russia and Iran re-conquered three of the zones through heavy bombardments. Idlib remained as the last stronghold of the opposition with dozens of opposition groups squeezed into the province until the Sochi deal, which gave hope to the region.