Turkey has not yet separated extremists in Idlib, says Russian Foreign Ministry

Turkey’s attempts to separate moderate opposition from extremist groups in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib have still not achieved success, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

Ankara and Moscow struck a deal in mid-September preventing an attack on the rebels in Idlib by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone and remove “extremist” fighters from groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as part of the deal.

However, Russia is still unsatisfied despite Ankara’s efforts with progress on this front over a month after the deal’s October 10 deadline, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

On the same day Emirati newspaper The National quoted Syrian Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar as saying Turkey had “sabotaged” the Idlib deal after reports of continued fighting in the area.

“(Despite) the postponement of military action, the political process is currently disrupted in Idlib because Turkey has not fulfilled its duties with regard to the implementation of the tripartite Sochi agreement”, Haydar said during a speech in parliament.

While moderate groups have reportedly stuck to the deal, others including HTS have refused to do so.

Skirmishes have continued in the area despite the deal.  Nawar Oliver, a military analyst at the Istanbul-based Omran Centre, told The National that both opposition and Syrian government forces have been responsible for violations of the agreement.

The Assad regime aims to retake all territory within Syria’s borders, and had been preparing to assault Idlib, the last major opposition-held area, before the deal was struck. Turkey, which has backed the opposition since the early days of the conflict, is particularly nervous that an assault could lead to a wave of refugees fleeing across the border.

On Thursday Russian state news outlet TASS quoted Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, as saying the implementation of the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib would be the main subject of discussion during the next round of Astana peace talks, which is expected in the near future.