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Turkish Military Patrols Are Not Enhancing De-escalation In Idlib

A Turkish military patrol on Damascus-Aleppo Highway heading to Saraqib, rural Idlib – March 8, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

A Turkish military patrol on Damascus-Aleppo Highway heading to Saraqib, rural Idlib – March 8, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

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On Friday morning, March 8, the Turkish Army has started the first of its patrols in the areas between the observation posts, spreading from northern rural Idlib to southern rural Aleppo, in marked progress in the application of the Sochi deal’s terms, concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 2018.

The step succeeded the intensification of bombardment on the part of the Assad’s forces, which is targeting the “demilitarized zone,” separating the Syrian regime’s control areas from those of the opposition, which caused the death of dozens of civilians, as documented by the “Syrian Civil Defense.”

During the very first hours of the Turkish patrol’s activity, some of Idlib governorate’s residents felt reassured, who believe that this progress can put a limit to the escalation from the side of the Assad’s forces and can deter any possible attack they might launch on the area. However, the reality is something else, for the Syrian regime resumed the shelling, with which it targeted the city of Saraqib, the towns and villages of northern and western rural Hama. On their turn, military foundations announced attacking posts of Assad’s forces, causing the death of elements at these posts.

On September 17, 2018, Turkey and Russia signed an agreement, providing for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the areas controlled by the opposition and those held by the regime in Idlib. The zone is decided to be 15kkm deep in Idlib and 20k deep in al-Ghab Plain, western rural Hama, and it is to be emptied of all heavy weapons, including artillery arms and tanks.

The demilitarized zone’s deal between the two sides was preceded by the establishment of 12 Turkish army observation posts, under the Astana Talks. The posts are located along the line of contact between the Syrian regime and the opposition on the parameters of Idlib governorate, covering its eastern, southern and western borders.

Turkish Messages

The launch of the patrols in the areas spreading between the observation posts in Idlib was announced in a statement of the Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar, who informed the Turkish Anadolu Agency on March 8 that Russian patrols will also be running on the side of the Syrian regime.

Akar said: “Today, Russia will begin patrols in the border area outside of Idlib while Turkish Armed Forces patrols will start in the demilitarized zone,” adding that “maintaining the cease-fire in Idlib is a significant step for securing stability in Syria.”

So far Russia did not comment on the Turkish patrols in Idlib or Akar’s statements concerning the Russian patrols in the regime-held areas, while the first hours of the patrols’ activities, in the areas where the posts of  al-Eiss, Sarman and others are established in northern Idlib, witnessed flights of Russian military and reconnaissance aircraft, which particularly overflew areas in northern rural Hama.

In the announcement of the starting of the Turkish patrols, Akar delivered several messages, on top of which was that about the S400 missile defense systems, which Ankara intends to buy from Russia, and due to which it has been suffering pressure from the United States of America that refuses the deal, relating it to its own deal, under which Turkey intends to purchase the Patriot surface to air missile system, and giving in the F35 fighter jets.

The current relationship between Russia and Turkey and its time frame cannot be ignored, neither the several deals based on this interaction, on top of which is the Sochi deal, which the implementation of its terms has been suspended for six months, and the S400 defense system bargain.

The second remarkable statement made by Akar was the potential of Syrian refugees’ arrival in the U.S. in case an attack is launched against Idlib governorate.

He said: “If the attacks on Idlib are to continue and migration is to start, the 3.5 million persons would do not be seeking refuge in Turkey and Europe only, but also in the United States.”

 

“The Biggest Complaints are about the Syrian Regime”

While the Sochi deal enters its seventh month, the Assad’s forces seem to continue with the escalation, being an indicator of the controversies and the changing attitudes of the guarantor states, Russia, Turkey and Iran, that has been linked to the pretext of “terrorism,” which relates to “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS).

In a recent census, the Response Coordinators Team stated that the number of civilian casualties due to the current military campaign against the demilitarized zone, located in rural parts of Idlib and Hama, is 101 civilians, including 32 persons since February 24 to Friday, March 8.

The team added that the number of people displaced from the zone has reached 14226 families, the equivalent to 89908 persons, spreading in more than 146 villages, towns and camps, while newcomers to the safer areas are still being recorded.

The team, consisting of a number of civil society organizations, condemned the strategic escalation from the side of Assad’s forces, accusing the Russian side of supervising it.

The team warned against new displacement waves and casualties among civilians if the military campaign against the area is to continue.

Akar pointed out: “The biggest complaints we are receiving are about the Syrian regime, that is violating the cease-fire […]. We are awaiting its commitment to the deal, and we demand that the Russians stop the regime from attacking Idlib,” adding that his country is not communicating with the Syrian regime; it is Russia that is being contacted and Iran when necessary.

The Turkish patrols were supposed to be accompanied by a ceasefire on the part of the Assad’s forces, another term that has been violated, a military source from the National Front for liberation told Enab Baladi.

The source added that the patrol’s track for the upcoming days has not yet been decided, and it is expected to be suspended due to the resumed missile and artillery shelling.

 

The First of the Turkish Patrols Arrive in Eastern Rural Idlib

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