Syria attacks Turkish-Russian demilitarised zone in Idlib - Al-Masdar

The Syrian government on Saturday attacked a demilitarised zone in the country’s last rebel-held province of Idlib, the Syrian pro-government news website Al-Masdar News said. The rebels, controlling the city, killed 22 Syrian soldiers on Nov.16. The assaults from both sides violate an agreement reached in September 2018 between Turkey and Russia.

Idlib is held by an array of jihadists including Al Qaeda-linked groups and Ankara-backed rebels. The most powerful is Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front - an al Qaeda affiliate until 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sept. 17 announced a plan to establish a demilitarised buffer zone 15-20km into opposition-held territories. According to the deal,   the jihadists were expected to withdraw to the buffer zone, preventing another conflict and staving off a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it's criticised Turkey's role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed demilitarised zone has failed due to rebels still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Occasional clashes have rocked the buffer zone since.

On Nov. 16, the rebels holding the city attacked Syrian government positions and killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around Idlib, France24 said

The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th, according to Al-Masdar. 

In response, Syrian Army on Nov. 17 heavily pounded the jihadist defences in southeast Idlib with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles, Al-Masdar said.

The primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah, Al-Masdar said. 

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the government attacks also targeted a neighbouring territory in northern Hama province.

At least one woman and one child were killed and at least two children were wounded in Saturday’s shelling on Idlib and Hama, the SOHR said. 

This latest conflicts between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels come as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria.

The SOHR said about 511,000 people had been killed in the Syrian war since it began seven years ago.