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Battle for Idlib: Buffer zone set up by Russia and Turkey

By Sheetal Sukhija, Manila News
18 Sep 2018, 05:45 GMT+10

MOSCOW, Russia - Supporting the Syrian President Bashar al Assad in his fight against rebels, Russia, along with the Government troops had been laying out battle plans to rid the last rebel stronghold of Idlib in the war-torn country.

However, on Monday, following a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkey counterpart, Tayyip Erdogan - the two countries decided that Russian and Turkish troops will enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syrias Idlib region.

Following his meeting with Erdogan, Putin announced that the buffer zone had been agreed to from which radical rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

Victory over Idlib, which is the last major rebel bastion in Syria, would mark a crucial final stage in Assad's ambitions to put down the rebellion that broke out seven years back.

And while Syria and Russia have been laying out battle plans for weeks and have even bombarded the rebel province for a short while before a lull in airstrikes took hold last week - have faced one of the most complex assaults even.

Idlib was home to 3.5 million civilians, most of whom were displaced from other areas across the country and over the last few weeks, tens of thousands of people have tried to escape the deadly airstrikes.

However, ever since the government offensive started in Idlib, the Turkish President Erdogan has opposed a military operation against the rebels.

Erdogan fears another major cross-border exodus of Syrian refugees, who would join the 3.5 million that are already present in Turkey.

On Monday, after Putins talks with the Turkish leader, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu addressed a press conference and told reporters that there would not be an offensive for now.

Meanwhile, Erdogan told reporters at the joint press conference that the deal would allow opposition supporters to stay where they were, and avert a humanitarian crisis.

Further, the Russian President told journalists, We agreed that by October 15 (we will) create along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops a demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km, with the withdrawal from there of radically-minded rebels, including al-Nusra.

He also noted, By October 10, at the suggestion of the Turkish president, (we agreed) on the withdrawal from that zone of the heavy weapons, tanks, rockets systems and mortars of all opposition groups. The demilitarized zone will be monitored by mobile patrol groups of Turkish units and units of Russian military police.

Erdogan added, With this agreement we have precluded experiencing a large humanitarian crisis in Idlib. The opposition will continue to remain in the areas where they are. In return, we will ensure that the radical groups, which we will determine with Russia, will not operate in the area under discussion."

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