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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Press TV

Turkey fulfilled responsibilities under Sochi deal with Russia over Syria's Idlib: Ankara

Iran Press TV

Saturday, 15 February 2020 4:40 PM

Turkey has hit back at Moscow that blamed Ankara for failing to honor a 2018 buffer zone deal, insisting that the Turkish government has so far carried out its responsibilities in Syria's volatile province of Idlib, which militant groups have been using as a launch pad for attacks against Syrian forces and civilians.

Back in September 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached an Iran-brokered deal, known as the Sochi agreement, to set up a de-militarization zone in Idlib, the last militant bastion in a nine-year war.

According to the agreement, Takfiri terrorist outfits, or those which have been branded by Ankara as "radical," were required to withdraw from the buffer zone.

However, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorists and other militants have been launching attacks on army and civilian targets from the buffer zone, where Turkish observation posts have been established to monitor the enforcement of the ceasefire there.

The increasing attacks prompted Damascus last August to begin liberating areas from the grip of terrorists in the province. Syria also started its full-scale offensive in December to flush all militant groups out of Idlib.

On February 12, the Russian Defense Ministry accused Ankara of failing to honor the Sochi agreement amid an escalation of militant-incited violence.

"The real reason for the crisis in the Idlib de-escalation zone unfortunately is the non-fulfillment by our Turkish colleagues of their undertakings to separate moderate opposition militants from terrorists," the ministry said.

Under the bilateral agreements between Moscow and Ankara, Turkey was tasked to separate the so-called moderate opposition militants from the internationally recognized terrorists. Turkey's failure to do so is believed to be one of the main reasons behind the ongoing escalation in Idlib.

Ankara supports a number of anti-Damascus militant groups in Idlib.

Moscow's reaction was apparently made in response to Erdogan, who had accused the Russian side a few hours earlier of "constantly attacking the civilian people, carrying out massacres, spilling blood."

Russia, a key ally to Syria in crushing Takfiri terrorist groups in the Arab country, strongly rejected Erdogan's allegations and blasted them as not corresponding "with reality."

On Saturday, Turkey hit back at Russia's Defense Ministry statement, claiming that Ankara had fulfilled its responsibilities under the Sochi agreement.

"Observation posts were set up" and the Syrian government "had to stay outside of this area. Russia and Iran were to ensure" the Syrian army troops "stayed outside, Turkey had responsibilities too, Turkey fulfilled these," said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay in an interview with NTV broadcaster.

"Undertaking an extremely risky and difficult duty, Turkey took real initiative to stop the bloodshed of civilians, to prevent a new migration wave and to ensure it did not become a terror nest," he added.

Turkish officials say of the 12 observation posts Ankara has established in Idlib four have been encircled by advancing Syrian army troops.

On Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the Turkish military would use "force … in Idlib against those who do not abide by the ceasefire, including the radicals." He vowed that "any form of measure" would be used against "radicals."

Turkey claims that 14 members of its forces in Idlib have been killed in shelling by Syria's government troops, vowing to severely retaliate.

Moscow took issue with Ankara after the Turkish president threatened that his military would rain fire on Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in the Arab country if another Turkish trooper was hurt.

Erdogan has given the Syrian government until the end of February to push back its forces outside the military locations.

Over the past four years, the Turkish military has staged at least two unauthorized invasions into northern Syria to push back against Kurdish militants, which Ankara accuses of harboring subversive intentions against the Turkish administration.

Syria has denounced the invasions, saying it would respond in kind if the need arose.

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