With the clock ticking on a deadline to spare Idlib from a regime attack, Syria’s last rebel stronghold is eerily calm. As violence subsides and the opposition tentatively embraces a ceasefire deal, locals and negotiators alike are hopeful that the agreement will hold – marking a diplomatic breakthrough at a late stage of the war.
It is still unclear whether rebel fighters are withdrawing tanks and artillery from the 15-20 km buffer zone between opposition and regime forces ahead of the 10 October cut-off. Even so, many in Idlib believe that in the eleventh hour of the Syrian conflict, Turkey has come to the rebels’ rescue, and will not abandon them now.
Turkey will not leave Syria until the Syrian people hold an election, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.
“Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners after they hold their elections,” Erdogan said at a forum in Istanbul.
Erdogan agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month to set up a demilitarized zone between rebel and government fighters in northern Syria. It also has a presence in the northwest Afrin region and further east, around Jarablus.
Erdogan also said on Thursday that Turkey is not experiencing difficulty in conducting talks with radical groups in Idlib, the last major rebel-controlled enclave outside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which includes the al Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Nusra Front, is the most powerful jihadist alliance in Idlib. Turkey designated the group a terrorist organization in August, matching a decision by the United Nations in June.
Ahead of the 17 September agreement which gave Idlib a month-long reprieve, the United Nations warned the imminent regime assault could cause the worst humanitarian crisis yet of a conflict already characterised by a staggering disregard for civilian life.
Reuters / Guardian