The recent chemical attack of jihadist militants on Syria’s Aleppo province and the immediately following airstrike of Russia have sparked a question mark whether the Ankara-Moscow agreement regarding the demilitarisation of Idlib is failing on the eve of the next round of Astana meeting.
The Syrian Arab News Agency announced that militants from terrorist groups fired chlorine-filled shells on November 24 on three neighbourhoods of Aleppo, leaving over one hundred people injured. Following the gas attack, Moscow declared that it hit the terrorists around Turkey-controlled Idlib region after informing Ankara.
“The Russian side intends to discuss this incident with the Turkish side as a guarantor of adherence to the cessation of hostilities by the armed opposition in Idlib de-escalation zone,” Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry Spokesperson, said, in accordance to the guarantee agreement between the parties.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russia’s airstrikes targeted a jihadist-controlled territory in Idlib. Stirred by the jihadists’ attack on Aleppo, Russia’s recent airstrike became the first attack in Idlib following the Sochi agreement between Ankara and Moscow.
ANADOLU AGENCY: ‘RUSSIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS SCENARIO’
Following the Russian airstrikes on Syria’s Idlib on Sunday, Turkey’s National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar telephoned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency strikingly reported that “the regime and Russia implemented the ‘chemical weapons scenario’,”concerning the leaders of jihadist groups in the region.
After Akar’s talk with Shoigu, the Turkish Defense Ministry released a statement on its website. “Regional security issues, particularly the recent developments in Idlib, have been discussed. In this context, we have exchanged views regarding that the recent provocations aiming to damage the Sochi agreement could continue,” the statement noted.
As the Turkish government’s official news agency portrayed the chlorine-gas attack on Aleppo as a “scenario” of Russia, the defence ministry in Ankara described the attack as a “provocation”. These controversial statements have led to a question, whether the Russian-Turkish agreement is failing just before the next Astana meeting.
On September 17, 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had agreed at talks in the Russian city of Sochi to set up a demilitarised zone in Syria’s Idlib. The zone to be jointly controlled by Turkey and Russia would distinguish the Syrian government forces from the jihadists controlling Idlib province of Syria. Thus, any land (ground) warfare to Idlib would be prevented.
Despite the agreement, however, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and the other jihadist militants in Idlib had used the buffer zone to attack the civilians and the Syrian army troops.
Reaching an agreement on the establishment of a buffer zone in Idlib, Turkey had to eliminate the presence of al-Qaeda terrorists in the region. The Russian-Turkish deal in September for the northwestern region had given "radical fighters" until October 15 to leave the proposed demilitarised area between the government and the jihadist forces.
However, the jihadists in Idlib had failed to meet the deadline to leave the planned buffer zone. Turkey’s AKP government had said that the deal with Russia to set up a buffer zone for Idlib was still on course despite jihadists missing a deadline to withdraw, while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had accused Ankara of the lack of desire to fulfil its obligations in the region.
“We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution," had said Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by al-Qaeda' Syria branch, hours before the deadline of the jihadists’ withdrawal from the region.
IN THE RUN-UP TO THE NEXT ASTANA MEETING
Russia’s recent airstrike on Idlib following the jihadists’ chlorine-filled bomb attack on Aleppo came before the next round of Astana meetings. The upcoming talks will be held on November 28-29 again in the Kazakh capital city of Astana.
Kazakh Foreign Ministry Spokesperson told reporters on Monday that all the guarantors of the Astana process (Russia, Turkey and Iran), the Syrian government, the armed opposition, as well as Jordan as an observer country, confirmed their participation in the meeting. The meeting is expected to discuss the current situation in Syria, particularly the recent developments in Idlib.