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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Russia-Turkey deal met with happiness and unease in Idlib

While some rebel groups welcomed it, some civilians pointed out the need to be wary of and deals 

Syrians dance, chant slogans and strike drums while others and wave flags of Turkey and the opposition, as they protest against the Syrian government during a demonstration in Binnish in the rebel-held northern Idlib province. AFP 
Syrians dance, chant slogans and strike drums while others and wave flags of Turkey and the opposition, as they protest against the Syrian government during a demonstration in Binnish in the rebel-held northern Idlib province. AFP 

The Turkish-Russian deal to avert an offensive on Idlib was welcomed by many in the province on Tuesday, although many expressed wariness at how long the agreement would hold.

Damascus and Tehran were among those welcoming the agreement for a demilitarized buffer around the province, but as the government expressed their approval it also vowed to press on with its campaign to recover "every inch" of the country. Its ambassador to Lebanon said the deal would test Turkey's ability to deliver on promises to disarm rebels.

"The Idlib deal preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries Assad's dreams of imposing his full control over Syria," said Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official.

"This area will remain in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and will force the regime and its supporters to start a serious political process that leads to a real transition that ends Assad's rule," Sejari said.

The spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission said the deal had halted an offensive for which government forces had been mobilising in recent weeks, calling it a "victory for the will for life over the will for death".

The "scenario of attack is practically excluded, at least for a period of time that is not small, and we hope that it will be permanent," Yahya al-Aridi said.

speaking from the Idlib town of Mara Al Nu’man, Qusay Noor told The National that it was a relief. “I feel very happy tonight because the situation here did not allow for a disaster like that to happen,” he said. “People are relieved. They will have some time to get their bearings.”

Syrian youths watch from the upper floor of a damaged building as protesters chant slogans and wave flags of the opposition during a demonstration against the Syrian government in Binnish in the rebel-held northern Idlib province late on September 17, 2018. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- who are on the opposite sides of the seven-year conflict in Syria -- agreed on September 17 that there would be no assault on the country's last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib as the two agreed to create a 15-20 kilometre-wide demilitarised zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops by October 15. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
Syrian youths watch from the upper floor of a damaged building as protesters chant slogans and wave flags of the opposition. AFP

But other residents were less upbeat. Abdulkafi Alhamdo, a 32-year-old teacher living in the eastern countryside of Idlib, said he had mixed emotions about the deal.

“After seven years, if we trusted anyone we would be fools. Whenever we trust anyone they trick us,” said Mr Alhamdo, who lived through the siege of Aleppo before arriving in Idlib.

He added that he was “so happy, and so sad” about the deal because it left them in a state of limbo.

“People might be able to live again. Children might know there is tomorrow without planes. But we are still in nowhere. Refugees forever.”

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Syria's ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim said the agreement was a test for Turkey and they would need to now back up the agreement with action. But he did little to hide his dislike for Turkey’s support for opposition groups.

"We do not trust Turkey ... but it's useful for Turkey to be able to carry out this fight to rid these groups from their weapons...Turkey could deal with this responsibility and this would be useful," Syria's ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul Karim said.

While Turkey and Russia will now discuss the classification of groups operating inside Idlib, pro-Syrian regime newspaper Al-Watan cited sources in Moscow as saying any faction rejecting the agreement would be considered enemies "even of the Turkish army and will be classed as terrorists that must be fought".

Idlib is held by an array of rebels. A number of Islamists and groups fighting as the Free Syrian Army are now gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the "National Front for Liberation".

But the most powerful is Tahrir Al Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front - an Al Qaeda affiliate until 2016. Worryingly for the deal, they have previously been very vocal about their opposition to any agreement that involved surrendering weapons.

FILE PHOTO: Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they cheer in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they cheer in the northwestern city of Ariha in May, 2015. REUTERS, file