North Syria buf­fer zone clear ahead of dead­line

Shanghai Daily - - WORLD - (AFP)

A PLANNED buf­fer zone in north­west Syria has been cleared of heavy ar­ma­ments ahead of time but Turkey faces a tougher task con­vinc­ing ji­hadists to pull out.

The de­mil­i­ta­rized zone ring­ing the Idlib re­gion is the re­sult of a deal reached last month between Turkey and gov­ern­ment ally Rus­sia to stave off an as­sault on Syria’s last ma­jor rebel strong­hold.

The ac­cord called for a com­plete with­drawal of all heavy weapons from the planned buf­fer by yes­ter­day.

“No heavy weapons were seen in the buf­fer zone,” con­firmed Rami Ab­del Rah­man, head of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights.

De­spite the rel­a­tively speedy im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ac­cord’s first dead­line, ob­servers say a thornier task lies ahead.

Un­der the deal, the zone must be free by next Mon­day of all ji­hadists, in­clud­ing those of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the re­gion’s dom­i­nant force led by for­mer al-Qaida fighters.

Ji­hadist fighters re­main

Syr­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Walid Muallem had ex­pressed con­fi­dence in Turkey’s abil­ity to ful­fil its side of the deal “be­cause of its knowl­edge of fac­tions” on the ground.

But Ni­cholas Heras of the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity said HTS is play­ing the long game in Idlib.

“It is mak­ing the as­sess­ment that Turkey will al­low it to con­tinue to op­er­ate in north­west Syria, so long as it keeps a low pro­file,” he said.

In re­cent weeks, Turkey has dis­patched con­voys of troops to mon­i­tor­ing posts in the re­gion and its soldiers are ex­pected to pa­trol any fu­ture buf­fer zone.

Forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad have re­taken large parts of Syria from op­po­si­tion fighters and ji­hadists since Rus­sia in­ter­vened in Septem­ber 2015.

De­spite progress in im­ple­ment­ing the ac­cord, As­sad in­sisted it was a “tem­po­rary mea­sure” and that Idlib would even­tu­ally re­turn to state con­trol.

Heras said that, with the buf­fer zone ac­cord, Rus­sia sought to hand over the bur­den of deal­ing with pow­er­ful ji­hadists to Turkey.

“The Rus­sians want to freeze the war in western Syria and get on with the busi­ness of re­build­ing As­sad’s zone of con­trol,” Heras said.

“As­sad might want to re­con­quer Idlib, but for now he does not have a bet­ter op­tion than this deal.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.