As­sad regime con­tin­ues to at­tack op­po­si­tion in Idlib, un­der­min­ing Sochi deal

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Politics -

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

PROCESS CON­TIN­UES

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.

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