SUN 24 - 3 - 2019
Date: Oct 16, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Syria ready to fight for Idlib if militants reject deal
BEIRUT: Syria’s foreign minister said Monday that Syrian forces stand ready to fight militants around the northwestern region of Idlib if a Russian-Turkish deal is not implemented there the same day, in keeping with a critical deadline.

The deal for Idlib sets up a buffer zone running 15-20 km deep into rebel territory that was supposed to be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all militants by Monday.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said it was up to Russia now to judge whether the agreement, which staved off a government offensive on the last notable swathe of territory in insurgent hands after seven years of war, was being fulfilled.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Moallem said at a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus.

“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there [are] other options.”

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a militant alliance spearheaded by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, signaled Sunday that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it did not explicitly say so.

“We value the efforts of all those striving at home and abroad to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” HTS said in its statement. However, it added that HTS would not end its “jihad” or hand over its weapons.

Idlib’s other main rebel faction, a Turkish-aligned alliance of groups known as the National Liberation Front, has already expressed its support for the agreement.

Moallem further said the government’s next target after recovering Idlib from rebels would be the area east of the Euphrates, indicating territory held by the Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

“After Idlib our target is east of the Euphrates,” he said, adding that it is “impossible” for his government to give up on the “vital” oil-rich area.

Moallem said the Kurdish forces “must decide what they want,” and abandon “illusions” they’ll get a federal system. He says the government is determined to bring all of Syria under its control.

About 40 percent of Syria remains out of Damascus’ control now. The eastern part is controlled by the SDF, which chased Daesh (ISIS) militants out of there.

Jaafari meanwhile said Syria should not be isolated from its Arab neighbors and lauded Damascus for staying “strong” and united in the face of many adversities.

The 22-member Arab League froze Syria’s membership following the start of the civil war in 2011, which was followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties.

Jaafari added that “no one should isolate Syria” and that he has been advocating dialogue to restore ties.

Nearly 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the war, and the country has been devastated by the violence.

Jaafari said Syria and Iraq have been victorious in their fight against Daesh, which now only controls small pockets in Syria.

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