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Turkey and Russia Negotiate to Reach a Ceasefire in Idlib

A Turkish military convoy enters rural Idlib, heading towards the al-Ghab Plain in rural Hama – May 17, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

A Turkish military convoy enters rural Idlib, heading towards the al-Ghab Plain in rural Hama – May 17, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

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Negotiations between Russia and Turkey are being conducted as to reach a ceasefire in Idlib governorate, 10 days from the start of the Assad forces’ military campaign in the area.

On Saturday, May 18, Abu Subbhi Nahass, the Head of the Political Office of the “National Front for Liberation” (NFL), said that there are negotiations between the Russians and the Turks as to reach a ceasefire in Idlib, at Russia’s request.

Nahass also told Enab Baladi that the negotiations are yet ongoing and nothing new has taken place.

Providing the details of the negotiation process, the official said that the Russian side demanded a ceasefire in Idlib, on the condition that Assad forces stay in the positions they controlled in western rural Hama in the past a few days.

Turkey approved the ceasefire. However, it stipulated that the Syrian regime withdraws from the areas it advanced to.

According to Nahass, Turkey presented the suggestion to the NFL factions, which they refused unless the regime retracts.

Neither the Syrian regime nor Russia has released any official statements on the ceasefire negotiations.

“A ceasefire was held on the fronts of Idlib and the rural parts of Hama and Latakia for 72 hours,” the Russian news agency Sputnik quoted a field officer of the Assad forces.

The field officer did not provide further details on the ceasefire, its reasons or how it was reached.

Through the generalization of the ceasefire, the Syrian regime, according to Abu Subbhi Nahass, wants to impose pressure on the factions depending on the popular incubator in Idlib.

“The factions agree on the ceasefire on the condition that the regime retreats from the towns and villages it occupied,” he said.

Enab Baladi correspondent for rural Hama reported that the Assad forces’ attacks on areas in rural Hama and the southern rural parts of Idlib have halted after midnight at Syria’s local time.

Quoting troops of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the correspondent said that the area’s observatory posts have intercepted recordings of Assad forces’, they made through handheld transceivers. The recordings spoke of a ceasefire in Idlib governorate and the Hama countryside.

He said that the Assad forces started deploying Hesco bastions and fortifying the posts they have lately took over in northern rural Hama, which corresponded to the talks about the ceasefire.

In a WhatsApp voice note that reached Enab Baladi, Jaber Ali Basha, the Commander of the Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, said that the Russians have urgently called for an overall ceasefire, 12 days from the beginning of the military campaign, through which they realized no territorial achievements.

He added that the Russians have stipulated that they stay in the areas they entered, and “they have made their offer through the neighbors.”

“NFL’s reaction was clear and firm, a refusal of any ceasefire unless the sectarian militias retract from the towns and the villages they have occupied. Otherwise, we would go on with our battle,” the commander pointed out.

In the past 13 days, Assad forces managed to have control over several areas, taking them from the opposition factions in rural Hama. On top of these areas are the towns of Kafr Nabudah and Qalaat Al-Madiq, as far as the town of Al-Hwaiz, in al-Ghab Plain.

Despite their progress, Assad forces were massively repelled by the opposition factions that chose to deploy anti-armor missiles as to obstruct vehicles and tanks.

On September 17, 2018, Turkey and Russia concluded a deal in the city of Sochi, providing for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the opposition-held areas and those controlled by the Syrian regime in Idlib.

The zone is 15 kilometers deep in Idlib and 20 kilometers in al-Ghab Plain, western rural Hama, from where the radical factions must withdraw.

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