Putin and Erdogan Analyze Situation in Syrian Region of Idlib

Hannah Rogers
September 18, 2018

Speaking alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at talks in Sochi on Monday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the creation of a 15-20 kilometer (approximately 9-12 miles) demilitarized zone will prevent a "humanitarian crisis" in the northwestern province.

The province is a last bastion for thousands of rebels and home to about 2.9 million people, including as many as 1 million children, according to the United Nations.

Iran, Russia and Turkey met at a Tehran summit on September 7 to discuss the expected offensive against Idlib but were unable to overcome their differences. At the same time, it has sent reinforcements of its troops ringing Idlib, a move created to ward off a ground assault, at least for now.

Russia and Turkey have made a decision to set up a demilitarized zone between the armed opposition and the government troops in Syria's Idlib province by October 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday. Experts saw this as a move by Erdogan to exert pressure on Russian Federation and the Syrian regime, by creating a reminder that these rebel factions could move once more on cities such as Aleppo that have already been recaptured by the Syrian regime. In the end, the Turkish leader is getting much of the praise for finding a way out of what just days ago looked to be an unavoidable humanitarian disaster.

"We've focused on the situation in the province of Idlib, considering presence of large militant groups and their infrastructure there", Putin said at a press conference after the talks.

Wissam Zarqa, a university teacher in Idlib, said demonstrators were flying the tri-color flag to rebut the regime line that Idlib is dominated by the al-Qaida linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group.

Ramadan also said the deal offers the Syrian government and Russian Federation one of their main demands, which is securing the highway that passes through Idlib and links northern Syria with other cities.

Nearly 3 million civilians live in Idlib and fighting could provoke a massive new exodus of refugees to Turkey.

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So in light of the recent development, the anticipated operation is believed to have been pushed back to a later time this month to give a chance for the efforts to separate the terror groups from other rebel factions, according to Maher Ihsan, a Syrian analyst.

Turkish and Russian soldiers will be patrolling the zone to ensure it is respected.

Idlib is strategically important for both Russian Federation and Turkey.

Turkey, with 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has already borne the "political and human burden" of the Syrian war and any new refugee flow would head for Turkey, Erdogan said. It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone. "Last time it took only a few days for the deal to fall apart and there were many lives lost in Kafr Zeita after bombing".

There are an estimated 60,000 rebel fighters in Idlib and its surrounding areas.

"We will continue promoting a number of joint strategic projects, including in the energy sector", he said. Syria's rebels despise Russian Federation for its support for Assad, who has been in power since his father, Hafez al-Assad, died in 2000.

Danura stressed that the Syrian government will not accept to live with "terrorists" in Idlib, noting that the situation there can not move on like this for a long time.

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