The significance of the pullout of heavy arms by radical groups operating in Idlib cannot be overestimated, according to Fuad Eliko, member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. Speaking to Sputnik, the politician shed light on the developments on the ground.
The decision to withdraw heavy weapons from Idlib has opened the door to a peaceful settlement, Fuad Eliko, the chairman of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS) and member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, told Sputnik Arabic.
Eliko highlighted that the representatives of the Syrian opposition were satisfied with the move and the establishment of a new 9-12 mile demilitarized zone in Idlib along the contact line of rebels and government forces.
“We believe that it is a very important positive development that all radical groups operating in Idlib ultimately accepted the condition of the Sochi agreement and removed their heavy weapons from the Idlib zone,” he said. “As a result, clashes between the Syrian army and the opposition have stopped.”
According to the politician, this step will help intensify the political settlement process in the country.
“Russia, Turkey, France and Germany will soon meet in Turkey and discuss key issues of this initiative,” Eliko pointed out. “Now the main emphasis in the discussion of the Syrian issue will be placed not on a military but on a political settlement.”
The politician noted that the future of such extremist groups as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham*, Huras al-Din (also called the Guardians of Religion Organization) and the Turkistan Islamic Party remains unclear.
“The neutralization of these radical groups lies with Turkey,” Eliko pointed out. “Turkey can disperse them, neutralize them, or contribute to their joining the ranks of moderate opposition. Meanwhile, there is still no clarity regarding the return of foreign fighters from Idlib to their homes.”
On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to establish a demilitarized zone between Syrian government forces and militants located in the Idlib region by October 15. The pullout of heavy weaponry was one of the agreement’s conditions.
On October 9, a Syrian army representative told Sputnik that Hayati al-Sham, largely made up of al-Nusra, Huras ad-Din and the National Liberation Front militants, including 16 Free Syrian Army groups, backed by Turkey, had withdrawn their heavy weapons out of the southern, southwestern and eastern parts of Idlib Governorate.
Addressing a press conference on October 10, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow was double-checking the information about the arms pullout, adding that “over 1,000 militants [had] left the demilitarized zone, and about 100 pieces of equipment [had] been withdrawn.”
On October 15, Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front,* released a statement signaling its readiness to abide by the Russian-Turkish deal aimed at preventing an all-out offensive on the last military stronghold in Syria.
The move came in contrast to earlier reports claiming that the Islamist terrorist group was not ready to lay down its arms.
Commenting on the Russian-Turkish initiative on October 8, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad underscored that the move was aimed at preventing the bloodshed in the region, adding, however, that the measure was a “temporary one.”
Assad emphasized that the country was entering a new phase of rehabilitating those elements of Syrian society which collaborated with or otherwise supported “chaos and terrorism.”
Previously, Damascus came up with a plan of capturing the last terrorist stronghold by force. However, following a series of consultations between Syrian, Russian, Turkish and Iranian officials, the parties concerned agreed to resort to diplomatic means.
*Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (al-Nusra Front) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.
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