Ankara warns of possible escalation in Syria's Idlib amid civilian evacuations

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 19.07.2018 20:41

Turkey has underscored the need for decreasing possible tension in Syria's northwestern Idlib province after some 6,900 pro-regime civilians and fighters left under a Russian and Turkish-backed evacuation deal.

"We do not want the scenario experienced in eastern Ghouta, northern Homs and now in southwestern Syria to be also experienced in Idlib," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a news conference yesterday.

Aksoy also mentioned President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on July 14, saying if the regime advances toward Idlib, Astana agreement would dissipate.

He stressed that the regime tries to find a solution to crisis via military means and added that such ways would not lead to "legitimate ruling."

The evacuation of civilians from the Shiite-majority villages of Fuah and Kafriya in Idlib is now underway after a deal was struck between regime forces and the opposition after months of negotiations. It marks one of the largest population transfers during the Syrian civil war.

According to Anadolu Agency (AA) sources in the region, evacuations began Wednesday evening with 12 ambulances ferrying injured people from both villages, followed by dozens of buses carrying civilians. Under the terms of the agreement, the evacuations will coincide with the release of opposition fighters captured earlier by the Assad regime. Opposition sources told AA that the deal, struck with Iranian negotiators Tuesday, called for the evacuation of 6,900 people from both villages in return for the release of 1,500 detained opposition fighters.

During peace talks in Astana in May 2017, the three guarantor countries – Turkey, Russia and Iran – agreed to establish de-escalation zones in Idlib and parts of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama provinces.

According to the agreement, Turkey is projected to gradually establish 12 observation points, from Idlib's north to south.

Meanwhile, in the south, Bashar Assad is set to recover control of the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after opposition fighters in the area agreed to surrender terms, sources on both sides said yesterday.

The opposition in al-Quneitra province at the border with the Israeli-controlled territory has agreed either to accept safe passage to the opposition-held province of Idlib in the northwest or to remain in the area on the state's terms, according to Reuters. After securing Damascus in May, Bashar Assad turned his attention to the opposition in the strategic south where protests against his rule first erupted in 2011. Nearly three weeks of bombardment saw the beleaguered opposition agree with Russia earlier this month to hand over Daraa province, before reaching a similar deal for its capital this week.

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