Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Syrians wave flags during a demonstration in the rebel-held northern Syrian city of Idlib on Sept. 21, 2018, in support of the agreement between Turkey and Russia, to avert an assault on Syria's last major rebel stronghold. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.


Palestinian attacks Israeli soldier in Hebron, is shot dead

Updated 42 min 20 sec ago
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Palestinian attacks Israeli soldier in Hebron, is shot dead

JERUSALEM: A Palestinian man attacked an Israeli soldier near a holy site in the southern West Bank city of Hebron before being shot dead, the army said on Monday.

“An assailant attempted to stab a soldier adjacent to the Cave of the Patriarchs, lightly injuring him. The soldier and other forces at the scene, responded with live fire,” the army said in a statement.

The military confirmed the assailant was Palestinian and had been shot dead, but gave no further details of the attacker’s identity.

A series of deadly incidents have increased tensions in the West Bank this month.

On October 15 a Palestinian was shot dead after stabbing a soldier in the northern occupied West Bank.

Earlier this month, a Palestinian shot dead two Israelis and wounded another in a West Bank industrial zone.

Israeli forces continue to hunt for the suspect.

A wave of mainly lone-wolf Palestinian attacks against Israelis broke out in 2015.

The series of attacks has decreased since, but analysts remain concerned over the potential for another surge.