Little change on the ground in Idlib as deadline closes in

As the deadline approaches for a Turkish-Russian deal over the northwestern Syrian town of Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in the country, little change can be observed on the ground, news site Digital Journal reported on Thursday. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sept. 17 announced an agreement to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib to be patrolled by Turkish and Russian soldiers. 

The deal between Turkey and Russia effectively postponed a military attack by the Syrian government, which is determined to seize the control of the last rebel stronghold in the country.

The deal gives Russia the responsibility of taking measures to avoid an attack on Idlib, while Turkey is given the task of removing radical rebel groups from the demilitarised zone by Oct. 15 and their weapons by Oct. 10.

“But as the deadline draws closer, there has been no indication either condition is being implemented,” Digital Journal said.

"On the ground, essentially, there's no movement. There's no handover of weapons or territory," Digital News quoted Haid Haid, a research fellow at the London-based Chatham House, saying to AFP. According to Haid, the deal will be implemented on time, but with some amendments. 

While welcoming the Turkish-Russian agreement, the main Ankara-backed rebel alliance, the National Liberation Front, has denied beginning to pull out any of its heavy weapons. Formerly al-Qaeda affiliated  Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), on the other hand, has still not announced its stance.

Russia, Turkey, rebel groups and hardliners groups are still trying to agree on the finer details of the deal, said the news site. “The thorny questions being discussed include precisely where the buffer would be established, who would patrol it, and whether weapons systems would be simply re-stationed in other rebel zones or handed over to Ankara,” it said. 

Putin said on Wednesday that the demilitarised zone in Syria’s Idlib was effective and no major military actions were planned in the region, while the Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, on Thursday accused the militants in Idlib of committing provocations inside the province.