Clashes between the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group and the moderate National Liberation Front (NLF) in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib ended after the two groups agreed on a cease-fire Thursday.
While the agreement between the parties will provide a cease-fire throughout Idlib, it also envisages the removal of the trenches and ditches dug by the groups across the city. It is also expected that the groups will exchange the prisoners they captured during the clashes, according to the agreement.
The clashes started in late December in Aleppo and intensified in the last two days, spreading to Idlib's north and southeast, including the western countryside of Aleppo province, the town of Atmeh, the tent area in Idlib and the northwestern Hama province.
As a result of the clashes, the NLF, backed by the Turkish-assisted Free Syrian Army (FSA), announced that it took control of the town of Salwa in the Idlib countryside; whereas the HTS announced that it took control of areas in Idlib's south, including al-Faqi, al-Fattirah, Sfouhan, Ourembe and Tarmalah.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in September 2018, following their talks in Sochi, to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib in order to decrease tension and prevent a new conflict in the province. According to the 10-article memorandum signed between Ankara and Moscow during the meeting, the Idlib de-escalation area will be preserved, and Turkish observation posts will be fortified and continue to function. Russia will also take all necessary measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib are avoided, and the existing status quo is maintained. The agreement also envisaged the removal of "all radical terrorist groups" from the demilitarized zone by October 2019.
Commenting on the infiltration of radical terror groups in Syria's Idlib province, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday that terrorist groups have been pulled out from the demilitarized zones with Turkey's efforts. "Radical groups are attacking the Syrian opposition, and we have taken the necessary measures to halt these attacks," Çavuşoğlu said in a TV interview.
Despite minor delays in the implementation of the Sochi agreement, the minister also noted that the Idlib agreement has been successfully implemented in general.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigou also discussed the latest situation in Idlib in a phone conversation Wednesday.
According to a statement from the ministry, Akar and Shoigou discussed the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone in Syria, the Sochi agreement and other issues of regional security.
Turkey designated the HTS as a terrorist group in August. The HTS is the most powerful terrorist alliance in Idlib, the last major opposition-controlled enclave outside Bashar Assad's control. After the fall of Aleppo in November 2016, dozens of opposition groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the HTS, squeezed into Idlib.