Assad regime at work to frustrate Turkey’s plans in Syria - analysis

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rolled up his sleeves against Turkey’s plans for maintaining the peace in the country’s northwest following Ankara’s deal with Moscow to oversee the clearing of Idlib province’s demilitarised zone of jihadists, the Arab Weekly reported.

Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Syria’s final rebel stronghold of Idlib last month, averting a humanitarian crisis in a region home to 2.9 million civilians. Accordingly, the 15-20km buffer zone to be established around the city is to cleared from proscribed jihadist groups by Oct. 15.

Turkey is consolidating its military presence in the province, Arab Weekly noted, with Russian President Vladimir Putin confirming on October 3 that there were no preparations for military operations in Idlib.

However, jihadist group Tanzim Huras al-Din have blasted the Turkey-Russia agreement as a "great conspiracy" while the Ansar al-Din Front issued a statement in September calling on insurgent groups in Idlib “to overcome their differences.’’  

‘’Whether by accident or Damascus’s design, the presence of the ISIS fighters in Idlib threatens to undermine Turkish plans,’’ the article stressed, quoting Nicholas Heras, a Middle East security fellow at the Centre for a New American Secu­rity in Washington.

“ISIS is definitely a spoiler in Idlib and the Assad government knows that...Turkey is already having trouble convincing its rebel proxies in Idlib to give up their heavy weapons in the proposed demilitarised zone, which is a big problem. These are the Syrian rebels who Turkey needs to take on and take out al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party and similar groups and Turkey's Syrian rebel proxies do not seem up to that job,’’ Heras said.

The Assad government knows that if Idlib collapses into open warfare among the armed opposition groups, Turkey's job will be harder and bloodier, Arab Weekly said, adding that such a scenario would allow for Damascus to claim that Turkey is not up to the job of clearing the area of extremists that Russia gave it, thereby allowing the Assad government an excuse of entering Idlib.