Russian and Turkish officials have agreed to mark out de-escalation zones in and around the Syrian province of Idlib to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
10 days after the summit in Tehran, which sought to avoid a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Idlib, Russia and Turkey have come to an agreement to establish a demilitarised zone that put on hold a threatened offensive on the province. Idlib is the last rebel stronghold and is home to nearly three million people, half of whom are internally displaced from different areas in the country.
A plethora of (sometimes rivalling) rebel and militant groups are currently based in the province. The most prominent of which is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group formerly linked to al-Qaeda, which has thousands of fighters within its ranks. Other groups include the National Liberation Front (NLF), which is supported by Turkey, as well as other groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP).
On Friday, 7th September, Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met at a trilateral summit in Tehran, to possibly negotiate a last-minute diplomatic deal to prevent further bloodshed in the ongoing Syrian conflict. However, the summit failed to achieve a secure an agreement on a ceasefire deal.
However, in the last few days an agreement between Turkey and Russia was announced in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking alongside Erdogan, Putin said the 15-20km-wide zone would be established by the 15th October. The Russian-Turkish agreement also stipulates that surveillance of the area, located along the border, will be carried out by patrols of the Turkish forces and the Russian military police.
Putin also said that this deal would entail a “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib, including HTS. As part of this deal, by the end of 2018, transportation routes linking Syria’s key port of Latakia with major cities Aleppo and Hama will be restored.
The agreement has given hopes that the major actors in the Syrian conflict may come together and find a more comprehensive peace plan to end a conflict that has left the country in ruins.