Idlib demilitarization (2018–2019)
  (Redirected from Idlib demilitarization (2018–present))
The Idlib demilitarization was an agreement between Turkey and Russia to create a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Syria's rebel heldIdlib Governorate, to be patrolled by military forces from Russia and Turkey. On 17 September 2018, the Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reached an agreement to create a buffer zone in Idlib.[21]
Idlib demilitarization
Part of the Turkish military operation in Idlib Governorate and the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War

The situation in the province of Idlib as of 17 September 2018. Locations of Turkish outposts are pictured.
  Syrian Army control
  Tahrir al-Sham and allies control
  National Front for Liberation and allies control
  Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army control
Date17 September 2018 – 30 April 2019
(7 months, 1 week and 6 days)
31 August – 19 December 2019
(3 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
LocationNorthwestern Syria
Liwa al-Quds
Arab Nationalist Guard
Ba'ath Brigades
National Front for Liberation
Syrian National Army
Katibat Jabal al-Islam
Commanders and leaders
Vladimir Putin(President of Russia)
Gen. Mohammad Khaddour
Maj. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan
Recep Erdogan(President of Turkey)
Mohammad Safwan al Saleh  [11]
Col. Mustafa Bakr
[citation needed]
Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Emir of Tahrir al-Sham)
Abu Maria al-Qahtani
Abu al-Fath al-Ferghali
Abu Yaqdhan al-Masri
Zaid al-Attar
Units involved
Russian Armed Forces and affiliated paramilitaries
Casualties and losses
238 killed (as of 29 April 2019)[13]
2 killed[14]
155 rebels killed (gov.-rebel conflict; as of 29 April 2019)[13]
130 rebels killed (HTS-NLF conflict)[15]
1 killed[16]
372 civilians killed (as of 29 April 2019)[13][15]
80,000 people displaced[13][15]
a Buffer zone never fully implemented, interrupted by intermittent shelling and ground offensives.[17][18] Zone considered to be inactive by Turkey, which Russia says did not abide by the agreement,[19] while Russia considers Turkey to have failed to separate moderate rebels from hardline jihadists.[20]
In the start of 2018, after ISIL defeat in eastern Syria, the Syrian government and its allies intensified their assault on rebels in the southwest. After the Beit Jinn offensive in January, the Eastern Qalamoun offensive (April 2018), rebel fighters who refused to "reconcile" with the government were evacuated to Idlib – reportedly about 1,500 from Qalamoun[22] and 300 from Beit Jinn to Idlib and Daraa in December[23] and more in March.[24] At the same time, rebel and HTS fighters surrendered in the long Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign, and the rebels, numbering about 20,000, were transported to Idlib, Afrin and Al-Bab area.[25][26][27] In late July 2018, Syrian government forces and their allies captured the Southern Front, during the 2018 Southern Syria offensive. Rebel fighters who refused to reconcile were again transported to Idlib.[28][29]
After that, the Syrian government started gathering troops outside of Idlib, and began shelling rebel-held territories at the start of August. Rebels started building defenses and trenches for an upcoming offensive.[30][31][32][33]
The bombardments
On 4 September 2018, at least ten Russian Sukhoi aircraft launched dozens of air strikes over the southern and western part of the Idlib Governorate, which led to the largest bombing campaign in the province. Russian air strikes specifically targeted the Jisr al-Shughur District, including Al-Shughour, Mahambel, Basnkoul, Zaizooun, Ziyarah, Jadariiah, Kafrdeen, Al-Sahn, Saraseef and a dozen others. The Russian air force on the first day recorded more than 50-70 attacks. According to pro-government sources, at least 11 civilians were killed, and 24 wounded during the strikes.[34][35][36] The following day, one of the top Syrian Arab Army (SAA) commanders arrived in northern Syria in the upcoming offensive in Idlib, Hama and Latakia: according to the official media wing of the Tigers, their commander, Major-General Suheil al-Hassan, went to Aleppo area to visit the areas retaken by the government.[37] The Syrian and Russian air forces resumed their airstrikes over the southwestern countryside of the Idlib Governorate today. Using their Sukhoi jets, the Syrian and Russian air forces heavily bombarded the Jisr Al-Shughour District for the second straight day.[38] As the bombardments continued, and the fears for an upcoming offensive appeared to become a reality, the United Nations issued a warning that the offensive will result in a bloodbath and a massacre, as about 100,000 rebels and 3,000,000 civilians were holed up in the area. Turkey started sending more troops and boosting defenses in the frontlines, and warned the government and Russia of a humanitarian disaster if their forces started the offensive, saying it would create a new wave of refugees. On 13 September, it was announced Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Iran, to discuss ways forward.[39][40][41]
The demilitarization deal was struck on 16 September and was announced as binding on both parties. The terms were as follows:​[42]​[43]​[44]​[45]​[46]​[47]​[48]​[49]​[50]
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper further reported that the agreement would reportedly end in the return of government institutions to Idlib, after rebel groups withdraw from residential areas.[51]
The Turkistan Islamic Party, Guardians of Religion Organization, Ansar al-Tawhid, Ansar al-Din Front, and Ansar al-Islam rejected the deal, putting the agreement in jeopardy,[52][5] while Tahrir al-Sham issued an ambiguous statement on the deal.[8]
The Syrian Government accepted and "welcomed" the deal.[51]
Incidents after the deal
On 19 September, the Syrian military attacked positions held by HTS and its allies, in the Hama-Latakia-Idlib axis, stating that it has still not withdrawn its troops from the area.[53][54]
On 20 September, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reportedly executed an individual who was reportedly supportive of reconciliation with the Syrian Government.[55][better source needed]
Turkish officials and officials from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) since the inception of the deal have been discussing a course of action to be taken in Idlib in line with the deal's guidelines. Reportedly the most urgent topic of the discussions is the uncertain fate of foreign fighters within HTS, with HTS proposing that the group dissolves and become part of an umbrella of other groups, while foreign fighters along with the group's leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani be allowed safety, discussions have been inconclusive in this regard but satisfactory in other aspects with many elements of HTS welcoming much of the Sochi agreement.[56]
While pro-government forces reportedly attacked opposition forces positioned in Turkmen Mountain in the Latakia Governorate which is reportedly a part of the agreed demilitarized zone, which caused several fires in the area, the government also targeted other areas of the Latakia Mountains including Jabal Al-Akrad and Kabani. Government targeting also hit areas in the Idlib Governorate including the Qoqfeen area in the western countryside of the province. The areas in the Hama Governorate were also reportedly hit including the town of al-Sermaniyyeh in the al-Ghab plain, opposition factions responded by shelling government-held areas in the northern countryside of the Hama governorate in the towns of Joureen and Foro.[57] Later at night on the same day multiple rebels including the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement reportedly shelled Pro-Government positions in the western parts of Aleppo targeting the Mokambo and Al-Andalus districts of the city. In response to the attack the Syrian military fired missiles into the Rashideen 4 area held by the Syrian opposition.[58]
On 1 October, machine gun fire was reportedly emanating from pro-government forces in the rebel-held Lirmoun area of the northwestern outskirts of Aleppo, along with continued shelling on behalf of pro-government forces after shelling from the previous night.[59]
On 2 October, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Turkish officials reportedly reached an agreement where agrees to withdraw fighters and heavy weapons from the established demilitarized zone, as well as a dissolution of the Syrian Salvation Government and its administration became integrated with the Syrian Interim Government and that HTS restructures so it will no longer be designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, and Turkey in turn agrees not to take action against the group and its members and leadership will be given safety.[60][better source needed]
On 26 October, pro-government shelling in the Idlib Governorate killed seven, reportedly being the largest loss of life since August 2018.[61]
On 16 February, SOHR reported that at least 18 people were killed and many more injured after sporadic Syrian government shelling on Maarrat al-Nu'man, Khan Shaykhun, Hama and surrounding settlements in the rebel-held Idlib region within the past two days. Rebels responded with machine gun and rocket fire towards SAA positions.[62]
Failure of the deal
The deal's terms were never implemented fully. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) never left the demilitarized zone and, to the contrary, launched a full-scale offensive against the other rebel groups remaining within the rebel-held Idlib Governorate. After 10 days of fighting, the National Front for Liberation (at that point the second largest and most powerful rebel group in Idlib, after HTS) signed a peace deal with the group, which allowed HTS to take over almost the entirety of the Idlib governorate, leaving only small and minor pockets under the control of the other rebel groups. The HTS-run Syrian Salvation Government was not dissolved but instead expanded its control to all of the areas recently captured by HTS, including those within the demilitarized zone. The presence of HTS forces along the demarcation line led to frequent exchanges of artillery shelling with government forces, which significantly undermined any chances for a true cesassion of violence. The M4 and M5 highways were never reopened by rebel forces and even the groups deemed 'moderate' by the deal never withdrew all heavy and medium weapons from the demilitarized zone. The provision for joint Turkish-Russian patrols within the DMZ was also not enforced, as the rebel groups categorically refused the entry of any Russian soldiers or military police to their controlled areas, allowing only Turkish forces to do so. The rebel's refusal reportedly came after Turkey reportedly 'promised' them that it would not allow any Russian presence within the DMZ.[63][64][65][66] The deadline for the fulfilment of the deal's conditions was extended multiple times to allow Turkey more time to convince the rebel groups to adhere to the terms, but all such attempts were unsuccessful.[67][68][69]
Renewed fighting
Main article: Northwestern Syria offensive (April–August 2019)
On 6 May, after six continuous days of intensive airstrikes on the region by the SyAAF and RuAF, the Syrian Arab Army launched a ground offensive against HTS and NFL-held areas in northern Hama and southern Idlib. The Syrian Government stated that the assault was provoked by increased rebel attacks on government-held areas originating from within the demilitarized zone. The Russian government stated that the deal was not implemented by the rebel groups, hence justifying military action against them.[70] The Idlib-based rebel groups stated that the goal of the offensive would be to capture the M4 and M5 highways in the Idlib Governorate.[71][72][73]
Attempted revival of the deal
On 1 August 2019, following several months of intense fighting between government and rebel forces, the Syrian Government announced a unilateral truce, conditional on rebels' fulfilment of the original 2018 demilitarisation terms.[74][75] Most rebel groups reportedly accepted the offer.[76][77] Shortly after the truce went into effect, however, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham declared that they would categorically refuse to leave any region under their control at that time, which was a core demand of both the original agreement and the conditional ceasefire.[78][79] A day later, the government announced the end of the ceasefire and a resumption of military operations, citing the refusal of rebel groups to withdraw from the zone as the reason for the truce's failure.[80][81] A considerable portion of the DMZ's territory was subsequently captured by the Syrian Army and its allies during the final stages of the offensive. Another ceasefire was announced in late August, which confirmed the government gains. Some rebel groups on the other hand, expressed their refusal to adhere to the deal and withdraw from the remaining 'demilitarized' areas, hence signaling that the agreement would not be revived.[82]
The subsequent 2019-2020 Northwestern Syria offensive saw large parts of the originally designated zone being captured by the Syrian Army. In mid February 2020 the Syrian Army regained control of the M5 Motorway.[83]
On 5 March 2020, Russia and Turkey came to a new cease-fire agreement, which included joint Russian and Turkish patrols of a 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) wide corridor alongside the M4 Motorway that runs through Idlib to Latakia.[84][85]
Conflict parties
Play media
A number of pro-rebel and pro-Turkey demonstrations were held in rebel-controlled towns in the Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo governorates during the attempted implementation of the ceasefire, including the ones shown here on 22 September 2018.[86]
A number of different, rivalrous rebel and jihadist factions control territory in Idlib Governorate, with fighters numbering up to 70,000.[87] They are loosely organised into two rival coalitions, who had fought against each other in the January–March and July 2017.
HTS and allies
NFL coalition
The National Front for Liberation (NFL): not a single group, but a coalition, formed in 2018, mainly from two big groups. The first identifies as part of the more moderate Free Syrian Army; the second, which joined in August, is another, more radical, coalition, the Syrian Liberation Front (made up primarily of Ahrar al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement). The coalition controls territory in rural southern Idlib, rural western Aleppo and some settlements around Idlib City, according to the Turkish government linked Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, and is thought to boast 30,000 to 55–60,000 rebels,[91][93] or even up to 70,000.[citation needed] The coalition is heavily supported by Turkey.[100][101] The groups that made the coalition are:
 United Nations − the United Nations praised the deal, hoping that it will be the start of a political solution in Syria.[115]
HezbollahHassan Nasrallah, the general-secretary of Hezbollah, said in a televised speech on the occasion of Ashura, "We can assume, following this deal, that Syria is going to a calm phase but we will be staying in the country based on an agreement with the Syrian government."[127]
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  123. ^ "Jaish al-Izzah: Thanks to Turkey and shame and disgrace to those who gave up the Syrian people". 20 September 2018.
  124. ^​https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DoQ8HbRXkAAyuUn.jpg
  125. ^​https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DoQ8HbaXoAAvbsW.jpg
  126. ^ "Largest extremist groups in Idlib reject Russia-Turkish deal". Mura Selon blog. 19 September 2018.
  127. ^ "Hezbollah vows to stay in Syria amidst Russia-Turkey deal on Idlib – Xinhua – English.news.cn". xinhuanet.com.
Further reading
"Syria's Last Bastion of Freedom". The New Yorker. 10 December 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
Last edited on 2 May 2021, at 05:12
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