Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

Militants in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Russia: Extremist alliance will not withdraw from Idlib zone

  • Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib: Russia
  • Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization

ANKARA: Turkey has failed to persuade the rebel alliance Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) to withdraw from a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province that was agreed by Ankara and Moscow in September, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“Sporadic fighting continued to be recorded in places with a residual terrorist presence, primarily in Idlib… Militants continued shelling western Aleppo,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On Thursday, Turkish and Russian officials met in Ankara ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on Nov. 19.
Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, said although there are serious problems with implementation of the Idlib agreement, Russian officials stressed that the process requires time and effort.
“Russia doesn’t want to push Turkey because there’s a much more important thing: Constitutional dialogue between the Syrian opposition and government, where Turkish-Russian dialogue plays a decisive role,” he told Arab News. 
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan publicly undertook obligations to clear the (Idlib) zone from terrorists,” Akhmetov said. 
“Ankara is also having a hard time with the US regarding the Syrian Kurds. I think Russia will find ways to exploit this situation.”
Turkey has designated HTS, which is led by the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (JFS), a terrorist organization.
Under the Turkish-Russian deal, rebel groups, including HTS, were to withdraw from the demilitarized zone by mid-October.
Ankara has repeatedly indicated its readiness to use force against radical groups if they refuse to withdraw.
Turkey has reinforced its military presence in Idlib with armored vehicles and equipment. It has 12 military posts in the province.
Enes Ayasli, a research assistant and Middle East expert at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the most obvious setback of the Idlib deal is that moderate rebel groups in the province now back HTS if there is a clash between it and Syrian regime forces.
“Their focus is now on repelling regime forces even if it means violating the deal,” he told Arab News. 
“Turkey in this sense seems to have failed to separate moderate groups completely from extremists.”
An intensification of fighting between the regime and extremists may cause the deal to collapse completely, Ayasli said.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an increased rate of violations of the Idlib demilitarized zone.


US deploys 1,500 more troops to Middle East as Pentagon blames Iran's guards for tanker attacks

Updated 8 min 47 sec ago
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US deploys 1,500 more troops to Middle East as Pentagon blames Iran's guards for tanker attacks

  • Donald Trump says the additional troops would serve a 'mostly protective' role
  • The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region earlier this month

WASHINGTON:  Donald Trump said Friday the US will send 1,500 extra troops to the Middle East in a "mostly protective role" amid heightened tensions with Iran.

"We want to have protection in the Middle East. We're going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
"Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we'll see what happens."

Officials said earlier that members of Congress were notified following a White House meeting Thursday to discuss Pentagon proposals to bolster the US force presence in the Middle East.
Earlier this week, officials had said that Pentagon planners had outlined plans that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the region. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners had not settled on a figure.
The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region this month in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.

More to follow...