Feb 07 2019

Russia warns of extremist threat, demands Turkish action in Idlib

Turkey must do more to uphold its agreement and clear hardcore jihadist fighters from Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing on Thursday.

"Given the highly difficult situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, we expect our Turkish partners to step up efforts to finally turn the tide and fully implement their obligations under the Sochi agreements on Idlib made on September 17, 2018, including the establishment of a demilitarized zone," Zakharova said.

Turkey, a major backer of Syrian rebels, and Russia, the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, signed the agreement in September as Assad regime forces were about to launch an attack on the western Syrian province.

The attack was held off by the agreement, which stipulated that Turkey would create a 15-20km demilitarised zone along the line separating rebel and regime forces and clear it of heavy weapons and extremist fighters.

However, the moderate rebels backed by Turkey have been overshadowed in Idlib by Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group which includes jihadists who previously fought for Al Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria.

Zakharova said HTS and other allied groups were preparing for a large-scale operation aimed at seizing control of the entire province.

"According to incoming information, they are planning to set up a single operational headquarters with the centralized command to comprise field commanders of all the illegal armed formations active in the zone," Zakharova said.