Turkey's efforts in Syria's northwestern Idlib province to bring peace to the region are continuing to be praised by the international community as Russian and American ambassadors to the United Nations indicated on Wednesday their satisfaction with the country's work in implementing the Sochi deal.
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council session on Syria, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said that the Sochi agreement inked by Turkey and Russia provided an opportunity to continue political solutions talks. "If this opportunity was missed, history would not forgive us," Cohen said.
Turkey and Russia struck a deal in the Russian town of Sochi on Sept. 17 to ward off a Bashar Assad regime offensive on the last major opposition enclave in Syria and a possible humanitarian catastrophe. The deal set up a demilitarized zone running 15-20 kilometers that was supposed to be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all opposition groups by Monday, Oct. 15. The deal also foresees that opposition groups in northwestern Syria's Idlib will remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will carry out joint patrols in the area.
During the same session, Russia's U.N. envoy Vassily Nebenzia also indicated that Turkey has been exerting significant efforts to put the Sochi deal into effect. Hundreds of opposition fighters exited and considerable equipment were withdrawn from the demilitarized zone. Nebenzia also pointed out that Russia, Iran, and Turkey, the guarantor countries of the Astana talks, have been cooperating closely to find a remedy to the Syrian crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke about the Sochi deal yesterday, saying that his Turkish partners are doing everything to fulfill the agreements on Idlib.
The Astana peace process was launched by Russia, Iran and Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to find a political solution foreseen in U.N. sponsored peace talks in Geneva. The Astana process resulted in an agreement of the three guarantor countries to implement four "de-escalation" zones. The partial ceasefire, however, was short-lived. Regime forces backed by Russia and Iran re-conquered three of the zones through heavy bombardments. Idlib remained as the last stronghold of the opposition with dozens of opposition groups squeezed into Idlib. Russian warplanes have been bombing opposition fronts in the densely populated town since Sept. 8.
The Sochi deal, however, is successfully being implemented when it comes to the moderate opposition, which withdrew all heavy weapons from the region as scheduled, and reportedly, from now on, these groups will gather under the roof of the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Although all the heavy weaponry was withdrawn from the buffer zone in accordance with the deal's premise, the target date for the withdrawal came and went without any hardliners leaving. U.N. Syria Humanitarian Adviser Jan Egeland commented on the issue yesterday, stating that Russia and Turkey agreed to provide more time to implement the Idlib de-escalation agreement. Reportedly, the extremist groups have a year to withdraw from the demilitarized zone.
UN envoy strives for political solution before resigning
In the meantime, U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who has been working for more than four years in his post, announced on Wednesday that although he will step down at the end of November for personal reasons, he will give one last attempt to come up with a solution in Syria.
Pointing out that the Sochi deal offered "a window for the constitutional committee to be established and the political process to go ahead," de Mistura said that he would use his remaining time to try to make progress on a constitutional committee for Syria. He also added that a catastrophe has been averted in Idlib and that major steps have been taken in defeating terrorism thanks to the Sochi deal.
Last month, the U.N. announced that a constitutional committee set to be established by the Astana talks would include members from the Syrian government, an opposition delegation and a group made up of Syria experts and civil society members.
However, de Mistura highlighted that the Bashar Assad regime is not content with a U.N. list of participants and causing delays in the progress that needs to be reported to the U.N. Security Council by the end of November. Commenting on the committee to be formed as a part of U.N.-led political solutions, Cohen also expressed concern over the lack of interest in a peaceful resolution on the part of the regime. He stated that the constitutional talks are being stalled by the same delaying tactics that have kept the conflict going for years.
In relation to the issue, Russia's Nebenzia also said that Moscow wants the constitutional committee to be formed as soon as possible but "setting artificial deadlines, in this case, would be counter-productive."
Meanwhile, although the Sochi deal put an end to the regime's attacks on Idlib, the Bashar Assad regime still continues to attack the properties of Syrians who left the country due to the war.
On Tuesday, Lama Fakih, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, "Russia and Syria are calling on people to return to attract reconstruction funding, but as always with the Syrian government, the reality is much different."
According to HRW satellite images, the regime has been unlawfully preventing displaced residents from former opposition-held areas from returning to their properties by demolishing their properties with no warning and without providing alternative housing or compensation.
HRW also reported that the regime destroyed hundreds of houses under law No. 10 that was passed by the Syrian regime last April. The law enables the regime to seize the property of displaced people. However, despite the reports of HRW, Egeland announced yesterday that Syria had withdrawn its controversial law.
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