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Iran Press TV

Russia, Turkey 'optimistic' about Syria's Idlib deal, working out details: UN official

Iran Press TV

Thu Sep 20, 2018 02:45PM

Russia and Turkey say they are optimistic about but still working on a demilitarized buffer zone to separate Syrian government troops from Takfiri militant groups in the northwestern province of Idlib, says the UN humanitarian adviser, as Ankara seeks to forestall a full-scale military operation by Damascus against terrorists in the militant-held region.

Jan Egeland, the chair of the United Nations task force on humanitarian access in Syria, said at a press conference in Geneva on Thursday that representatives of both countries had made the announcement at a weekly meeting of the taskforce in the Swiss city earlier in the day.

"We invited Russia and Turkey to explain to us what's in the deal, the basic message was we're very optimistic that the two of us can work this out to avoid bloodshed, to avoid the big war," Egeland said.

"A lot of areas would not see war, hopefully, but there could be more clashes between armed opposition groups," Egeland added.

His comments came three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Russia's coastal city of Sochi, and agreed to divide Idlib into a demilitarized zone between militant-held and government-controlled areas.

It is estimated that an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 members of different factions of armed groups, which Russia and Turkey consider terrorists, are active in the volatile province, which is home to around three million inhabitants.

Furthermore, Ankara supports tens of thousands of other militants, describing them as members of the so-called "moderate" armed factions fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Damascus and Moscow brand all of the armed factions in the region as terrorists.

Damascus has already said that it is preparing for a full-scale military operation against terrorists.

The Turkish government has been trying to persuade its loyal armed groups to evacuate Idlib in a purported bid to avert the anti-terror operation. However, it has not said how it would persuade them to disarm. Previous attempts have failed and the upcoming offensive is causing frictions among militants.

Some 60 percent of the province is said to be controlled by members of the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, which is a coalition of different factions of terror outfits, largely composed of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

At the Sochi summit, Putin said the agreement was that all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the buffer zone and that armed groups, including the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, would have to pull out of the zone. The demilitarized zone will enter into force by October 15, he added.

Erdogan, for his part, said at the joint news briefing that the two nations would carry out coordinated military patrols on the borders of the demilitarized zone.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.

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