The curtain has been brought down on the file of the two towns of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah, the northern countryside of Idlib, with the departure of the pro-regime fighters, along their families, and handing the two area’s management to the Syrian opposition, which for three years besieged the towns and repeatedly tried to impose its control over the area.
The surprising and hasty departure came immediately after the finalization of Southern Syria’s file. But the two towns’ deal is a continuation of the “Five Cities” agreement, signed in April 2017 by representatives of the opposition factions in Qatar and their Iranian counterparts.
The deal, back then, provided for the departure of fighters and civilians who refused to stay in Madaya, al-Zabadani and al-Yarmouk camp, in return for getting the tow towns’ population out in tow portions and the release of 1500 detainees held by the Syrian regime.
These are the “Syrian terms” of the deal, on top of which came a condition demanding the release of the Qatari haunters kidnapped by the Iraqi “Hezbollah” and paying a ransom to the Irani-supported party and the former “al-Nusra Front”, which dissolved itself and joined “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham”.
Only a few days passed following the implementation of the two towns’ deal before political analysis and predictions started to tackle Idlib’s governorate’s fate.
The Syrian Regime Manipulated the Detainees File
The population’s evacuation mechanism has been set by “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” and Iran; the deal provided for the retreat of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah’s fighters, allowing the stay of those who do not wish to leave, in exchange for the release of 1500 male and female detainees kept by the Syrian regime. The requested captives are divided as thus: 80% of the people detained with the beginning of 2018 to the end of April, 10% of 2017‘s detainees, in addition to about 200 names who have been arrested prior to 2016, 40 militants imprisoned by “Hezbollah” and three hundred names of people detained last year, and at least 200 women detainees as Imad al-Deen Mujahed, director of public relations of “Tahrir al-Sham”, said.
The release of detainees, who have been imprisoned for a few weeks only, triggered anger in the opposition held areas, especially among families of detainees who demanded that “Tahrir al-Sham” clarify the deal’s terms and demonstrated on Friday and Sturdy asking for the release of the detainees who were arrested long before.
Mujahed said that the Syrian regime is not expected to abide by the agreement because it is not satisfied with it at all. “There are no points of strength in the file that we can use to impose pressure, and the file has a revolutionary interest in favor of the country, for we are not negotiating from the standpoint of power cards”.
Anonymous Fate Awaits Idlib
Reactions varied following the deal’s implementation; while Mujahed said that “the deal aims to protect the area and purifying it of Iranian militias, under a popular demand and consent at the level of the military and civil entities in the liberated parts of Northern Syria,” Brigadier General Ahmed Berri, former head of “Astana” delegation, said that the deal is one of the worst agreements signed with Iran, which the opposition refused last year, describing it as “utter complacency”.
In an interview with Enab Baldi, Berri said that the deal, first of all, seeks to create a justification to accuse the opposition of “demographic changes” as to add “a sectarian touch to the revolution”, to introduce it to the world as based on sectarian fundamentals, since the regime, Iran and “al-Qaeda” would like to distort the revolution’s image and deviate it from its real track.
He added that the departure of Kafriya and al-Fu’ah’s population will give the regime and Iran the needed opportunity to attack Idlib and storm it with all possible destruction tools. Mujahed, however, believes that “eliminating the risk posed by Kafriya and al-Fu’ah is the first step in the plan in defense of Idlib, if an offensive against it was to be launched”.
Last June, Bashar al-Assad, head of the Syrian regime, vowed to control all the areas held by the opposition factions in Northern Syria and threatened to use force if necessary.
Answering a question about his opinion of the area controlled by Turkey-backed factions, he added “we will fight them and regain control with force. This, for sure, is not the best choice, but it’s the only means to control the state”.
Strategic Roads Might be Opened
In return, certain opinions started connecting between the evacuation deal and the political understandings between “Astana” guarantor states (Russia, Turkey and Iran) as to reopen two strategic roads in Northern Syria. The first is the international Damascus-Aleppo highway and the second is Aleppo- Gaziantep, which passes through the areas held by the opposition factions, positioned in the northern countryside of Aleppo, reaching the Turkish lands.
In a former interview with Enab Baladi, the military advisor of the “Free Army”, Ibrahim al-Idlebi said that Damascus-Aleppo highway, passing through the opposition-held areas in Idlib will be secured by joint (Russian, Turkish and Iranian) patrols, on the condition that the secured area is ten kilometers on both sides.
The joint patrols will spread in the buffer zone and will undertake the launching process of the international road, regardless of the factions which will not have a part in the process according to al-Idlebi.
A Turkish Paper to Rescue Idlib
Turkey has offered Russia a paper that is supposed to save Idlib governorate from a possible offensive on the part of Assad’s forces and allied militias.
“Asharq Al-Awsat” newspaper has on Sunday, July 22, presented the plan’s content, called “Idlib Governorate’s White Paper”.
The plan focuses on the provision of electricity, water, service and life facilities’ reactivation, as well as reopening the Aleppo-Damascus highway and removing earth mounds and checkpoints from the areas, starting in the town of Darat Izza towards New Aleppo.
The newspaper also reported that Turkey has called on all the factions, entities and unions in Northern Syria, the most important of which is “Tahrir al-Sham” (al-Nusra), the “Salvation Government”, the “National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces”, and the “Syrian Interim Government” and the rest of the factions, inviting them to a conference to be held in two weeks to discuss Idlib’s future, under the current developments in the political landscape.
It pointed out, quoting sources, that Turkey will ask all invitees to hand it over their heavy and medium weaponry, to collect and store, on the condition that a “National Army” is to be announced, integrating all the involved factions, and a unifying body is formed, to join all non-military entities, the task of which is performing civil and service-related tasks under the management and supervision of Turkey.
Lately, Turkey has completed the installation of 12 supervision points in the surrounding of the governorate, provided for by the “de-escalation” agreement, which joined Idlib last year.
Turkey played the major role in the formation of the “National Front for Liberation”, which receive both military and fiscal Turkish support, and through which Turkey is trying to give Idlib a new military structure.
Last February, Enab Baladi managed to get information saying that Turkey is already setting up a new military structure for Idlib’s factions, similar to that in the areas of the “Euphrates Shield”, northern Aleppo.
Three military sources informed Enab Baladi that the “Free Army” factions, active in Idlib, have received a financial support from the Turkish government as a substitute for the cut American funding, in a step to form a “National Army”, expected to indulge in confrontations to terminate “Tahrir al-Sham” in the governorate if it refused to dissolve itself entirely.
According to the newspaper, the “paper’s” terms implementation and making sure that they will succeed need months. Turkey, through the paper, aims to prevent any Russian-Syrian military action against Idlib that might end with a repetition of what happened in Eastern Ghouta and Daraa.
Last May, Enab Baladi reported that leaders of “Tahrir al-Sham” met in Turkey, one day after the ceasefire deal, where talks concentrated on Turkey’s demand that they be prepared for the next phase, represented by integration with the rest of the military factions, and eliminating the figures and entities affiliated with “al-Qaeda”.
Military sources, on the condition of anonymity, said that the leaders were transported via a helicopter from Antakya’s airport to Istanbul, without further details of the meeting.
Kafriya and al-Fu’ah file has been closed, and now eyes are all on Assad’s forces’ next destination, in the light of the threats which Ankara issued through its officials, calling for an abstinence from repeating the scenarios of eastern Ghouta, rural Homs and Daraa in Idlib.