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Turkish Political and On-Ground Moves to Implement and Consolidate the Sochi Deal

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Turkey is preparing to implement the deal signed by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, sealed at the Russian city of Sochi on September 17, the mechanisms of which started to clarify gradually with the approach of the declared implementation date, the 15th of October.

The implementation process begins with the demarcation of the announced buffer zone’s geographical borders, the supervision of which will be tackled by both Turkey and Russia.

On Friday, September 21, the Turkish Ministry of Defense declared that it held a meeting with a Russian delegation in the period from September 19 to 21, during which the two sides discussed the basics of the application of Sochi deal concerning Idlib.

In a statement, quoted by the Turkish newspaper “Daily Sabah,” the ministry said that during the meeting the borders of the Idlib area to be demilitarized were set, taking into consideration “the specifications of the geographical structure and the residential areas.”

The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov  has on Friday said that the Sochi deal is a transitional phase on the way to the establishment of a demilitarized zone and that the deal will eliminate the threats of targeting the Russian air base of Khmeimim at the Syrian coast, necessitating the departure of the “al-Nusra Front” and the heavy arsenal from the demilitarized zone at mid-October.

Of the top terms which the Turkish-Russian deal provides for is the eviction of the “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” included in the Russian and Turkish lists of terrorism, from the area, expanding along the stripe adjacent to the areas held by the opposition in Idlib governorate, the northern countryside of Hama and the rural parts of the Syrian coast.

However, Turkey has not yet declared the method with which it will evacuate the faction’s troops from the area, in addition to the removal off heavy weaponry, including military vehicles, tanks, mortars, rocket launchers and ground anti-aircraft batteries.

The two sides will supervise the demilitarized zone the width of which is 15 to 20 kilometers.

In a press conference, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared that the borders of the Syrian governorate will be preserved under the Sochi summit deal.

He said that the two highways “M4” and “M5,” passing through Idlib, will be reopened towards the end of 2018, as to energize the commercial wheel in the area; the roads are Damascus-Aleppo and the Lattakia-Aleppo.

In relation to the demilitarized zone, the Turkish minister said that it will be purified of the “extremists,” while citizens and the “moderate” opposition will remain, and a ceasefire will be conducted.

“The opposition will stay in this area. Civilians will also remain. Only the terrorist groups will be expelled, and the area will be evacuated of heavy weaponry, the likes of tanks and rocket launchers, but light weapons will stay at the hands of the some of the moderate opposition’s forces,” he added.

Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey will deploy more military reinforcements to its forces, positioned at the 12 supervision points within Idlib’s surrounding.

In the same context, in an interview with journalists that followed the press conference, he said that Turkish and Russian drones will coordinate patrols in the demilitarized zone between the areas controlled by the Syrian regime and others held by the opposition in Idlib.

As part of the moves undertaken to implement the declared deal, Turkey has mobilized special forces, “Commandos,” from the Turkish province of Tunceli to Idlib governorate, north-western Syria, as to enhance the supervision points, as a first step according to the Turkish website “Haberler.”

The website said that the forces were deployed under the deal that provide for mobilizing additional forces to the governorate.

The Sochi Deal

In a joint press conference on September 17, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have stated reaching a deal, under which a demilitarized zone will be established between the areas controlled by the Syrian regime and others held by the opposition at the “de-escalation” area in Idlib.

The deal provides for the establishment of a deweaponized area between the two sides control posts and starting joint patrols at the borders of the defined area, the width of which will be 20 kilometers.

The deal also provides for preventing “provocations,” on the part of the concerned sides and the “violation of the signed deal.”

The deal followed a military and a media-based mobilization at the outskirts of the governorate, considered the Syrian opposition’s last strongholds, as to gain control over it, while international and UN warnings were triggered concerning a humanitarian disaster that might befell the area if Russia and the Syrian regime were to initiate a military operation against it.

In the press conference which followed the Sochi summit, the Turkish President said: “I believe that through this deal we managed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib,” stressing that the opposition will stay where it is, and “we will guarantee the nonaction of the extremist groups in the area.”

The Turkish President also said that Russia, for its part, will undertake the procedures needed as to guarantee that Idlib would not be attacked.

A Turkish Diplomatic Action to Consolidate the Deal at the Security Council

Following signing the deal, Turkey started to undertake diplomatic steps as to consolidate it at the Security Council, through asking the European states that are permeant members of the Council for their support. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also announced a trilateral meeting that will bring together the three ministers of foreign affairs of the guarantor states of the “Astana’s” political track (Turkey, Iran and Russia) at the American state of New York.

On Friday, September 21, Anadolu Agency, quoting the Minster of Foreign Affairs, reported that he will be meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in New York as to discuss the Syrian affair, including the political resolution.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that what should be done after the Idlib deal, signed in Sochi, “is conducting a cease fire and focusing on the political solution in Syria.”

Under the steps it is undertaking as to consolidate the deal, Ankara asked France to support the Sochi deal during the scheduled session of the General Assembly in the upcoming weeks, which will be conducted in New York.

In a statement to the French Newspaper “Le Monde,” the French Minster of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Turkey has requested France’s support of the Idlib governorate deal, adding that “the warnings and the pressure we applied in the face of the risk of the break out of a humanitarian and a security crisis in Idlib were useful.”

In his statements to the newspaper, which addressed Russia, Le Drian stressed the importance of the role played by France, after “the Astana guarantor states have failed to arrive at a deal during the Tehran summit.”

The “France Press” agency, quoted a diplomatic French source, which it did not name, as saying that the Turkish-Russian deal was adopted by a decision on the part of the Security Council or a statment issued by it, pointing out that the matter is “under discussion” in New York.

If the Security Council is to adopt the Turkish-Russian deal, it will be obligatory to both signees.

 

How Do Jihadists View the Deal?

The deal, nonetheless, did not satisfy all the factions spreading in the Syrian governorate, especially Jihadist leaders at “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” who refused the terms of the declared agreement.

Among the commanders are the sharia scholar “Abu Yaqthan al-Masri,” the Egyptian sharia scholar “Abu al-Fath al-Ferghali,” and the Iraqi commander “Abu Maria al-Qahtani,” as well as the former director of “Tahrir al-Sham’s” political office, known as Zaid al-Attar.

Through “Telegram,” “Abu al-Fath al-Ferghali” has today, Wednesday (September 19), said “that who demands surrendering his weapon, whom ever he is, is undoubtedly an enemy, for giving up on this weapon is treason to religion, upholding the word of Allah and the blood of martyrs which has been scarified to get it.”

“There is no worry about surrendering what is more important than arms, which is the areas liberated by the blood of the honest people. [. . .] The matter of concern is that the human and jinn goblins would act as to disperse the lines of Mujahideen, inspiring doubt among them and justifying submission,” he added.

For his part, Zaid al-Attar spoke of a card of power, which is arsenal. Also on “Telegram,” he said: “Our weaponry is our pride and honor, as well as the safety valve to this blessed jihad; it is rather the only guarantee to the realization of the revolution’s aims of attaining dignity and freedom, for our enemy knows no other language but force.”

The jihadist commanders sole focus was directed at the arsenal which Turkey promised to remove, in addition to the deweaponization of the buffer zone.

Following the announcement of the agreement, the “national Front for Liberation” welcomed the deal, and “Free Army” commanders considered it “a victory for the Syrian revolution,” as it prevented the military operations that the Assad’s forces and allied militias were planning against Idlib.

Throughout the past months, “Tahrir al-Sham” refused to dissolve itself with the rest of the factions in Idlib. However, this attitude was limited only to migrant leaders and others classified as belonging to the hard-line current. This disapproval was accompanied with talks about a rift within the Movement, for there is a part that would like to eliminate international seclusion, and another that call for fighting Turkey and the factions it backs, such as “Ahrar al-Sham” and the “Free Army.”

Evacuating the area of the groups which Ankara and Moscow consider as “terrorist” is the most difficult step to realize under the deal even though Turkey has pledged to do so.

A map showing the military positions of Turkish and Russian forces – September 21, 2018 (LiveMap)

A map showing the military positions of Turkish and Russian forces – September 21, 2018 (Live Map)

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