Turkey separating moderate rebels from radicals in Idlib: Report

A general view shows tents housing internally displaced people in Atma camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border in Idlib Governorate. Turkey on Saturday said it is separating moderate opposition groups from those listed by the international community as terrorist groups in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 03 December 2017

Turkey separating moderate rebels from radicals in Idlib: Report

ANKARA: In Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, Turkey is separating moderate opposition groups from those listed by the international community as terrorist groups, a Foreign Ministry official said, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported. 
As part of this policy, Ankara has separated some moderate groups from the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, which is blacklisted by the UN, the official added. 
HTS’ main faction Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front) holds significant territory in Idlib, is one of the most powerful terrorist groups in Syria, and was affiliated with Al-Qaeda before it changed its name. 
“When Russia started airstrikes in Syria two years ago to prop up the Assad regime, it came under heavy criticism from the West and Turkey, mainly because it targeted not only Daesh but also rebel groups fighting the regime,” Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst from Marmara University in Istanbul, told Arab News. 
“But as Moscow turned the strategic balance in the regime’s favor, its stance on the issue started to soften.” 
Just before it launched the Astana process with Iran and Turkey, Russia said groups such as Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaish Al-Islam, which it previously viewed as terrorist groups, could be included in the peace process as members of the moderate opposition, Ersen said. 
“One of the major goals of establishing a de-escalation zone in Idlib is to weaken the influence of HTS there,” he added.
“Turkey plays a key role in this regard as it has close relations with most of the rebel groups in Idlib,” Ersen said.  
“Russia believes Turkey can be influential in convincing some of the groups affiliated with HTS to distance themselves from this group and start supporting the Astana process,” he said.
“The Turkish observer mission in Idlib not only monitors the cease-fire there, but also plays a crucial diplomatic role in realizing this objective.”
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, told Arab News: “Groups that would contribute to a political settlement are prioritized, with particular emphasis on those that aren’t in conflict with the Assad regime.” 

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 16 June 2019

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province


BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.