Dec 01 2018

Turkey accuses Syrian gov't of manipulating Sochi agreement - BBC Turkish

The Syrian government has been manipulating the Sochi Agreement, a Turkish-Russian deal struck in September to prevent a military assault against rebel-held northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, BBC Turkish quoted a Turkish source as saying on Saturday.

The Syrian military has started fortifying its positions at the border of the demilitarised zone, established in line with the deal made between Ankara and Russia, the same source said. 

“In the beginning the strength of the rebel forces in this region posed a threat to them [Syrian military]. When they realised that the threat was eliminated, they started piling up equipment,” the source said. 

The future of the Sochi deal has become uncertain, after Russia accused the rebel forces  on Nov. 24 of launching a chemical attack on the government-held city of Aleppo in the demilitarised zone, retaliating with air strikes, BBC Turkish said. 

The chemical attacks were on the agenda during the latest meeting of the Astana process led by Russia, Turkey and Iran held this week in Kazakhstan. 

Syria's Envoy to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, accused Turkey of failing to fulfil its promises during the meeting and said terrorist would have not used chemical weapons if those controlling them had not given them a green light. 

“We know who gave them chemical weapons. And we first and foremost imply Turks. This shows that the agreement made in Sochi has not being implemented,” BBC Turkish quoted al-Jaafari as saying. 

The rebel forces, on the other hand, point the finger at Iran for the chemical attacks, BBC Turkish said. 

“Militia in the region controlled by Iran felt themselves excluded from the agreement made in Sochi. The moment they thought that the regime [Syrian government] was ready to attack, they organised a chemical attack and blamed us,” BBC Turkish quoted sources in the rebel forces as saying. 

Turkish sources also denied the reports that the rebel forces had used chemical weapons, BBC Turkish said. 

According to the deal between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey had committed to remove extremist fighters from groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) from the demilitarised buffer zone as of Oct. 10. 

But, Moscow's presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on Wednesday in Astana that there were still some 15,000 fighters in Idlib aligned with the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate that are now fighting under the brand of HTS. 

According to Turkish sources talking to BBC Turkish, the number of HTS members fighting in Idlib fell to some 12,000 as of last week, after some groups decided to quit the group. 

The same sources also said that more than half of the remaining HTS fighters in the area had never participated directly to the war against the Syrian government and had been members of the police forces established to ensure security inside Idlib. 

There were some 5,000 HTS fighters inside the demilitarised buffer zone’s borders at the time the Sochi agreement was made, the sources said, adding that this number has fallen to several hundreds till then. 

Abdurrahman Mustafa, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SMDK) told BBC Turkish that an immediate political solution was needed to ease the tensions in the region.

The United Nations’ Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Thursday said that the meeting in Astana was a missed opportunity as Russia, Turkey, and Iran had failed to set up a Syrian constitutional committee that he saw  essential for a peaceful solution in Syria. 

According to the SMDK leader, the Syrian government blocks the establishment of the committee. which is supposed to include the Syrian government, the opposition, and civil society representatives. 

“A commission should be urgently formed for the constitution. Turkey submitted a list of 50 people, but the Syrian regime has been stalling them off,” Mustafa said. “The role of Turkey and Russia as guarantor countries is very important at that point. The strikes should immediately end and a political solution should follow,” he said.