Jan 11 2019

Ankara pressed Turkey-backed rebels to accept deal with jihadis in Idlib - Reuters

A rebel official close to Turkey’s intelligence service told Reuters on Thursday that Ankara pressed the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) to accept a peace deal recognising civilian control by an Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) backed administration in the Syrian province of Idlib. 

The deal between two groups, signed after heavy fighting strengthened the al-Qaeda linked jihadists’ grip on the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, cast doubts about the future of the Turkish-Russian agreement signed in September to prevent Syrian President Bashar Assad launching a military offensive in the province, Reuters said. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the Idlib agreement had been successfully implemented despite some temporary problems. “We did not bring terrorist organisations to Idlib. The [Syrian] regime intentionally guided terrorist organisations to go Idlib,” he said. “Steps have been taken to end heavy fighting in Idlib.”

Some analysts said Turkey silently agreed to the deal between HTS and FSA, as it wanted to focus on an impending military operation against Kurdish-controlled territories in northwestern Syria.

According to a rebel official close to Turkish intelligence service talking to Reuters, the Turkish government played a key role in preventing the fighting from spreading further by pressing rebels to accept a deal.

While the deal between Ankara and Moscow required Turkey to clear a demilitarised zone established in Idlib of HTS fighters, the jihadists have only allowed Turkish troops to deploy along the front lines, but have not pulled out of the area themselves, Reuters said.

“The complete control of (HTS) will be a pretext for the regime and the Russians to end the Idlib deal, and this is the coming danger,” Major Youssef Hamoud, spokesman for a Turkey-backed alliance of rebels called the National Army told Reuters. 

Some rebel factions who fought against the jihadists in Idlib have now fled to an area under greater Turkish influence nearby, Reuters said. Analysts commenting on the deal said on Thursday that Turkey wanted the deal as it needed FSA fighters to join its upcoming operation east River Euphrates.