Tense calm, sporadic clashes in Idlib as Russia-Turkey ceasefire broadly holds

Deadly clashes erupted in parts of northwestern Syria on Friday, but a ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey to end months of intense conflict was largely held elsewhere in the enclave held by Lastrebel.

A war observer and rebel sources said fighting had broken out in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in southern Idlib province between Syrian government forces and Jihadist insurgents from the Turkish Islamic Party. Fifteen people were killed, said the Syrian Observatory.

Residents and opposition forces said violence has decreased elsewhere.

The clashes, although limited, highlight the fragility of Thursday’s agreement between Russia, which supports the forces of President Basharal-Assad, and Turkey. Ankara supports rebel fighters, but has less influence over the hard-line jihadists who control large parts of Idlib.

The ceasefire aims to contain a conflict that displaced nearly a million people in three months in Idlib, which borders Turkey. But analysts and residents said they feared it wouldn’t hold up in part because it didn’t address the humanitarian crisis or air protection in detail.

“The deal is a failure and a joke,” said Amar Ahmed, 32, a farmer who has been displaced for almost two months and lives in a destroyed building. “We want to go home, to our lands, and for the (Assad) regime to leave our hometowns.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed repeatedly in recent weeks to reverse Assad’s advances in Idlib, but Thursday’s agreement froze the conflict along existing front lines, cementing significant gains for the forces Syrian government.

“There may be criticism, but our priority was a cease-fire and we have achieved it. Some objectives have not been achieved but this applies to both parties,” said a senior Turkish official.

Humanitarian crisis

Recent fighting has unleashed what the United Nations says is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis to date in a war that has driven millions of their homes and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in the NATO Transatlantic Alliance, has tried to resist the Syrian government’s advance and prevent a wave of refugees over its southern border. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Since the beginning of last month, Russia has repeatedly downplayed any discussion of a refugee crisis and accused Turkey of violating international law by dumping troops and equipment at Idlib. About 60 Turkish soldiers were killed during this period.

The ceasefire agreement establishes a safety corridor extending 6 km (3.7 miles) north and south of the M4 east-west highway from Idlib, where joint Russian-Turkish patrols will begin on March 15, effectively advancing Russia’s presence further north in the province.

Several previous agreements to end the fighting in Idlib have failed. The most recent did not specify a “safe area” and described how IDPs could return home.

“Any ceasefire agreement in Idlib, unless it has a no-fly zone dimension, is doomed to failure. The agreements in the past have never degenerated. They simply froze the crisis until the next extinction, “said Galip Dalay, IPC-Mercator fellow at the German Institute. for international and security affairs.

Tense calm

Locals and fighters in the region said the front lines – which saw heavy air strikes by Russian and Syrian planes, and intense artillery and Turkish drone strikes – were largely calm after the entry into force of the midnight cease-fire.

“There is a cease-fire but there are violations,” said AbdulGhani al Sheikh, a rebel fighter of the Turkish-backed FailaqSham rebel group. He said government forces were bombing Jabalal Zawya and Atareb, south and east of Idlib.

“But the situation is generally better. Everyone thinks that they are all temporary and Turkish reinforcements arriving,” he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported that the first eight hours of the ceasefire had been “relatively calm” and that the sky was clear of Syriangovernment warplanes and Russian.

A Syrian state reporter, broadcast from the city of Saraqeb, taken over by Syrian forces last week, said they were strengthening positions on the front lines.

Naji Mustafa, spokesman for a coalition of rebel factions, called the National Liberation Front, said government forces had violated the ceasefire with bombing and attempts to storm the line. forehead, leaving little trust between the parties.

Ahmad Rahhal, a former general of the Syrian government forces who defected to the opposition, said: “There is no withdrawal, and where the displaced (who) will never agree to go to the areas of the regime (Assad)? What we heard is not comforting. “

(REUTERS)