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Jan 23 2019

Situation in Syria’s Idlib rapidly deteriorating, Russia says

The situation in Syria’s Idlib province where Russia and Turkey have tried to create a de-escalation zone is rapidly deteriorating, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The territory is now almost under full control of Nusra militants, Reuters quoted Maria Zakharova as saying.

“Continuing provocations pose a threat to civilians, Syrian military personnel and the Russian Khmeymim air base,” she also said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sept. 17 announced in Sochi an agreement to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib to be patrolled by Turkish and Russian soldiers.

The deal gave Russia the responsibility of taking measures to avoid an attack of the Syrian government on Idlib, while Turkey was given the task of removing radical rebel groups from the demilitarised zone to be established.

The Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) this month agreed a deal ending fighting with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist coalition led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate. The deal strengthened the jihadi fighters’ grip on the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria.

Some 68 people were killed and 200 others were injured in 2,000 incidents in the demilitarised zone since Sept. 17, according to Zakharova. She said that the ceasefire in the province had been violated 30 times in the last 24 hours.

The Financial Times in an article published in Wednesday said that Moscow has accused Ankara of failing to live up to a promise to clear Syria’s Idlib of extremist militant groups while admitting that a ceasefire agreement made last September had failed.

“If Idlib becomes a hotbed of terrorism then it is the [Syrian] regime and the countries that support it who bear the responsibility,” it quoted Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying last week as he ''sought to lay the blame at the door of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad'' over the situation in Idlib.

While pointing out that Nusra had wrested control of northern Idlib province from rival opposition fighters, the Financial Times article stressed that armed opposition groups over the past few weeks have signed agreements ceding administrative authority to HTS, after it forced them out of several towns in the final rebel-held bastion.