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Idlib is conducted according to Russian-Turkish scenario

Turkey's National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoyogo, and IDPs from Idlib province towards the Syrian-Turkish border (edited by Enab Baladi)

Turkey's National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoyogo, and IDPs from Idlib province towards the Syrian-Turkish border (edited by Enab Baladi)

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Turkish and Russian officials confirmed that the cease-fire agreement in Syria’s war-battered Idlib province is still into effect, and no violations have taken place yet.

On 5 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met at the Kremlin in Moscow. They signed a cease-fire agreement to end the escalating fighting and defuse tension in the Idlib-de-escalation region.

Later, Turkish and Russian military delegations held a round of talks and negotiations in Ankara, where they largely agreed on the details of the full implementation of a 5 March cease-fire deal for Idlib. However, the opening of the M4 highway, which is the essential term of the cease-fire agreement, clashes with the refusal of civilians. Furthermore, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) deployed in the camps in northern Syria refused to return to their areas of origin.

According to the Syrian Response Coordinators Group (SRCG), nearly (1,041,233) one million forty-one thousand two hundred thirty-three people have been displaced from the towns and cities of Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo provinces to the Turkish borders by the fighting since the Syrian regime forces began a military offensive in November, backed by Russian airstrikes.

On 13 March, the Turkish and Russian defense ministries signed the text of the Moscow agreement on Idlib. According to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, the first steps of the agreement will be implemented by organizing a joint patrol on the “M4” international highway on 15  March.

The two ministries also agreed to establish joint coordination centers through which the military activities in Idlib will be managed.

Akar said that the joint patrols along the key M4 international highway would make an excellent contribution to the permanent cease-fire there, which is the goal of Turkey, indicating that Russians are demonstrating a positive attitude on this issue.

On the other hand, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the first joint Russian-Turkish patrol on the “M4” international road would start on time.

The Ministry considered that the results of the talks with its Turkish counterpart in Ankara allow the implementation of all the terms of the Idlib agreement reached on 5 March.

Content of 5 March cease-fire accord between Moscow and Ankara

Following the climate of palpable tensions, the massive military build-up on the ground, and in the Mediterranean sea region and the deadline given by Turkey for the Syrian regime forces to withdraw behind the borders outlined in the previous “Sochi” agreement, Erdoğan and Putin held marathon talks. As a result, they reached a deal on 5 March, which stipulated an immediate cease-fire in Syria’s war-battered Idlib province on the demarcation line that was established within the “de-escalation” areas.

The agreement also provided for the creation of a “security corridor.” The security corridor will run 6km (four miles) north and 6 Km south from Idlib’s major M4 highway, which is connecting the Syrian regime-held cities of Lattakia and Aleppo.

The agreement called for further negotiations to limit the humanitarian crisis in the region and facilitate the return of the IDPs to their homes. Besides, it stated that joint Russian-Turkish patrols would start on 15 March along the M4 international highway between Trinbeh area, west of Saraqib city, and Ain al-Hawr village in western rural Idlib.

In fact, the agreement effectively preserves some of the territorial gains made by the Russian-backed Syrian regime forces during a three-month offensive in the rural areas in Aleppo and Idlib after Erdogan repeatedly stated that Turkey wanted the Syrian regime forces to retreat behind the Turkish observation posts and withdraw from the regions they re-controlled.

Moreover, the new cease-fire agreement did not mention anything about the withdrawal of the Syrian regime forces behind the Turkish observation posts, thus preserving the current military status quo in the area.

According to the current agreement, among the essential areas that the Syrian regime re-captured and did not withdraw are Khan Sheikhoun, Maarat al-Numan, and Saraqib in the Idlib countryside, in addition to the northern Hama countryside and the western countryside of Aleppo.

Non-activation of the M4 international highway

The days following the signing of the Moscow agreement have seen demonstrations and sit-in protests in the remaining areas which are under the control of the opposition factions in Idlib against the term of March 5, which stipulated the re-opening of M4 international highway.

Videos have been posted on Facebook platforms, showing dozens of civilians standing as they are blocking the M4 international highway.

The demonstrators affirmed that they would not allow the Syrian regime forces and its ally Russia to use this road, considering that the terms of the Idlib agreement signed in Moscow are unfair. They also sent letters to the opposition factions in order not to cooperate with the Turkish and Russian side in opening the highway.

On 14 March, the day before the start of the conduct of the first Russian-Turkish joint patrol on the “M4” road, dozens of civilians began an open sit-in on the road near the city of Ariha, where protesters burned tires and called for refusal to run Russian patrols on the M4 highway.

Amid the tensions that prevailed in the area, a Turkish military patrol tried to go to the sit-in held on the M4 highway to disperse it, but it turned back after the protesters confronted it.

IDPs refuse to return to their homes 

Perhaps one of the most important provisions of the Moscow agreement, which civilians also refuse to implement, is the return of displaced people to their cities and towns.

A segment of IDPs from the rural areas in the provinces of  Idlib and Aleppo says in a survey conducted by Enab Baladi that they will not return until the regime forces withdraw from their villages and towns.

The IDPs considered that there are no guarantees to protect their lives if they return to the areas where the Syrian regime and Russia are spread.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Muhammad Hallaj, the director of the SRCG, confirmed that they have not documented the return of any displaced persons from the camps in northern Syrian to the areas controlled recently by the Syrian regime in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama.

Hallaj pointed out that several IDPs prefer to stay in the camps, which suffer from severe humanitarian conditions rather than return to their areas, which are re-captured by the Syrian regime forces.

Hallaj indicated that the displaced people fear arrests and reprisals as happened with some civilians who stayed in their homes, and the regime forces killed or arrested them in the rural areas in Aleppo and Idlib recently.

The United Nations stated that violence in the province of Idlib, northwestern Syria, has gone done after the cease-fire announced by Turkey and Russia, but the area is still not safe.

In a press conference held on 13 March,  Jens Lark, the spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the scale of humanitarian needs in these areas (Idlib) is acute, pointing out that nearly 327,000 civilians out of  960,000 displaced people from Idlib, currently living in camps, while about 165,000 people live in unfinished homes or buildings.

Lark also showed that 366,000 displaced people live in rented houses or with host families, while approximately 93,000 people live in public buildings such as schools and mosques.

Lark pointed out that humanitarian workers on the ground sound the alarm, as four out of every five people who have been displaced since the beginning of December 2019 are women and children whose health and safety are at risk.

The UN official urged the parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and their infrastructure, providing safe and sustainable humanitarian access to all affected people.

 

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