World News

Turkey rejects Syrian accusations over Idlib deal

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Turkey rejected on Tuesday Syrian government accusations that it is not meeting its obligations under an agreement to create a demilitarised zone around the insurgent-held Idlib region, saying the deal was being implemented as planned.

Displaced Syrian children stand outside of their tents at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province, Syria January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Files

The agreement forged in September between Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, staved off a major government offensive into the opposition-held region in northwest Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after a four-way summit on Syria with Turkey, Germany and France on Saturday that Ankara was fulfilling its obligations in Idlib, which with adjacent areas is the last stronghold of the anti-Assad insurgency.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in comments reported late on Monday that Turkey appeared unwilling to implement the deal.

“The terrorists still exist with their heavy arms in this region and this is an indicator of Turkey’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations,” Moualem said in Damascus, according to the official news agency SANA.

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed the allegations on Tuesday, saying the agreement was continuing as planned. “There are currently no issues in implementing the memorandum... Everything is going as planned,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Istanbul.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Turkey was doing its best to fulfill difficult obligations in Idlib, but that “not everything was going as it was planned”. Russia did not see a threat that the agreement would fail, he added.

On Saturday, the leaders at the four-way summit stressed the importance of a lasting ceasefire in Syria, and said a committee to create a new constitution should meet by the end of the year.

Speaking to members of his ruling AK Party, President Tayyip Erdogan also said on Tuesday that Turkey would ensure a more active international role in Idlib after the summit.

Peskov said Moscow would inform Syrian officials about the outcome of the summit in Istanbul.

The Syrian government has vowed to recover “every inch” of Syria, including the Idlib region.

The Turkish-Russian agreement established a buffer zone running 15-20 km (9-13 miles) deep into rebel territory that was to be free of heavy weapons and jihadists by mid October.

The main jihadist group in the northwest, Tahrir al-Sham, gave a nod of approval to the Turkish agreement, but without explicitly saying it would abide by it.

Cavusoglu also warned that if terrorists or radical groups in Idlib displayed a “different approach” to that of the deal struck between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey would intervene.

Turkey has established 12 military positions in the northwest under a previous agreement with Russia and Iran, Assad’s other main ally.

The United Nations warned that any major offensive into the Idlib region would cause a humanitarian catastrophe. The region is home to around 3 million people.

Reporting by Dahlia Nehme in Beirut, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Tom Perry, Janet Lawrence and David Stamp