Turkey to reinforce troop deployments in Idlib after Sochi deal: Turkish FM
Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Turkey will deploy more troops in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province following a deal signed by Ankara and Moscow which entails setting up a demilitarized zone in the country’s last rebel stronghold, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Sept. 18.
“We will need troop reinforcements. Turkey and Russia will patrol the border areas. Civilians and moderates [opposition] will stay in the same areas where they are now,” Çavuşoğlu said at a press conference with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi.
“The borders of Idlib will be protected. Idlib’s status will be preserved. Russia will take necessary measures to prevent attacks against this region and to keep the regime from entering there,” he stated.
The minister said the Turkish army will continue to keep 12 observations in Idlib and drones will support the monitoring of the 15 to 20 kilometer-wide buffer zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops. He said all radical groups will be eliminated from these territories.
The moderate opposition will stay where they are able to keep light arms, he said. “There will be no harassment fire from this area,” he added.
Çavuşoğlu stressed that if the regime and Russia attack Idlib and destroy the position groups, there would be no interlocutor to discuss the political settlement in Syria.
Russia and Turkey on Sept. 17 decided to set up a demilitarized zone between the armed opposition groups and Syrian regime troops in Idlib by Oct. 15 upon an agreement signed between the two sides.
hen asked where the radical groups eliminated from the province will go, the minister said officials from Turkey and Russia who are on the ground will work on the issue.
But in a separate meeting with journalists on Sept. 18, he said these groups will by no means be relocated to the regions taken under control by Turkey in the operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch in Syria’s north.
“We have cleared those regions from whom? From terrorist groups,” he stressed. Turkish and Russian intelligence and security officials will discuss the status of radical groups in Syria’s last major rebel bastion, the minister said.
He reiterated Turkey’s efforts in separating moderate opposition groups from radical militants.
The deal sealed between Ankara and Moscow prevented any scenario that “terrorists will leave to any other region in the event of a chaos,” Çavuşoğlu said.
“We have agreed on the establishment of an arms-free zone between the areas held by the opposition and the regime,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said at a news conference with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi on Sept. 17, following a meeting between the two leaders.
Following the news conference, Ankara and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding calling for stability in Idlib’s de-escalation zone, where acts of aggression are prohibited.
“I believe that with this memorandum, we have prevented a great humanitarian crisis in Idlib,” Erdoğan said, who had previously expressed worry over a potential exodus of refugees to Turkey.
Putin said the demilitarized zone will extend between 15 to 20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep into Idlib by Oct. 15.
He added that the establishment of the zone would be accompanied with the withdrawal of armed groups, including the al-Nusra Front. Putin said all heavy weapons had to be withdrawn from the zone by Oct. 10, according to Erdoğan’s proposal. This includes tanks, rocket launchers, guns and mortars of all opposition groups.
He also said Russia and Turkey would restore transit routes between Syria’s Aleppo, Latakia and Hama by the end of 2018. Erdoğan said Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols along the de-escalation zone’s perimeter.