In Idlib, the northern Syrian province and the last rebel stronghold, the deadline for the rebels has passed. They had to leave today to create a demilitarized zone. The buffer zone between the Syrian government army and the rebels was a compromise between Turkey, Russia and Syria. But that is now being endangered.
The agreement between Russia and Turkey, Syria’s most important allies, is a preliminary and logical solution that promotes mutual interests. The compromise was signed on 17 September and served as a replacement for military action to ‘liberate’ the last occupied zone in Syria. Russia admitted because they are not labelled as guilty for the bloody consequences of a military offensive and Turkey wants to curb the flow of refugees from the neighbouring country. They already caught about two and a half million Syrian refugees who often knock at the first stop, Turkey.
“We continue to fight”
The condition for a buffer zone is of course that the rebels also withdraw, and that is not the case for now. A few hours before their deadline they still swear on their lives that they continue to fight.
The radical militia Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) announced yesterday to continue the fight. “We will not deviate from the path of jihad and realize the goal of our revolution”, it says in a statement. The group, like other rebels, wants to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The militia, formerly known as the al-Nusrafront, is particularly well represented in Idlib. it has ties with the al-Qaida terror network.
However, the rebels claim that they are striving for peace: “We appreciate the efforts at home and abroad and their efforts to liberate and protect our region,” said one of the rebels.
By not retiring, the rebels give Russia an excuse to carry out their military operation. At least in the area intended as a buffer zone. That area is about fifteen to twenty kilometres wide.
Last battle scene
Idlib is the last battle scene where the Syrian war is still raging. Russia and Iran support Syrian President Assad and are in favour of a military offensive. Turkey, on the other hand, strives for a truce because the Turkish population suffers from the flow of refugees. The Turkish-Russian agreement to set up a buffer zone is a victory for Turkey, but Turkey’s victory may well be costly if the rebels do not keep quiet from midnight.
The agreement signed on 17 September was not only a victory for Turkey, but also for the United Nations (UN). They also warned of disastrous consequences and a “humanitarian disaster” in a military offensive. There are still about three million people living in Idlib, who would become dependent on humanitarian aid after such a massacre the UN believes.