Ankara has accused the Bashar Assad regime of provoking terrorism in Syria's northwestern Idlib de-escalation zone as Turkey pushes to establish stability and maintain peace amid clashes between the Syrian regime and opposition forces, as well as fighting between opposition groups.
Touching upon the Syrian regime's steadfast discomfort over the political process on the Syrian conflict, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday at a press conference that the Sochi deal has been implemented successfully yet the regime continues its violations of the deal. Çavuşoğlu added that media reports suggesting that the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) captured 50 percent of Idlib are wrong.
The Syrian regime is continuing its aggression in Idlib, home to more than 3.5 million Syrians, many of whom fled from other cities in the war-torn country. On Sunday, regime forces and Iranian-backed terrorist groups fired artillery into villages situated inside the de-escalation zone, killing at least one civilian. According to local sources, the regime targeted villages in the countryside of the Homs and Idlib governorates.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Mustafa Hajj Youssef, director of the White Helmets civil-defense agency, said the attacks targeting Idlib's southwestern villages also left two civilians injured. He added that the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital.
Çavuşoğlu added that Turkey is doing what is required to maintain peace and prevent violations in Idlib. He pointed out that "if Idlib becomes a nest of terrorism, it is the Syrian regime's fault."
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday, "All efforts are being made to maintain the cease-fire and stability under the Sochi agreement. Our close cooperation with Russia continues in this manner."
Idlib, located near the Turkish border, has been protected by a buffer zone implemented under a Turkish-Russian deal, known as the Sochi deal, reached in September.
Not only regime forces but also al-Qaida-linked terrorist organizations have been trying to undermine the Sochi deal, which brought stability to the governorate by warding off a likely regime offensive and a humanitarian disaster. However, media outlets reported on Thursday that after two weeks of clashes, the HTS terrorist group and the Free Syrian Army-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) agreed on a cease-fire. 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.
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.