Syrian Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar has accused Turkey of sabotaging the Idlib deal brokered by Turkey and Russia in Sochi last September.
Under the deal rebels should have removed all heavy weapons from the buffer zone by October 10 but skirmishes have continued to pit regime forces against militants and other insurgents on the ground.
During a speech in Parliament, Mr Haydar said that “despite the postponement of military action, the political process is currently disrupted in Idlib because Turkey has not fulfilled its duties with regard to the implementation of the tripartite Sochi agreement”, pro-regime Syrian newspaper Al Watan reported.
“It is impossible to talk about reconciliation or deal making”, he stressed, accusing the Turkish-backed armed groups in Idlib of “contradictions” and “continued struggle for influence”. Mr Haydar insisted on the fragility of the situation in Idlib, comparing it to “someone standing on a ball”.
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Moderate rebel groups have abided by the deal, but extremist like Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al Qaeda branch, have refused to do so, heightening tensions in the area.
However, "breaches and violations of the ceasefire have been committed by both regime and rebel forces", Nawar Oliver, a military analyst at the Istanbul-based Omran Centre, told The National. "Pro-regime and opposition media accuse the other side of attacking first. Usually, the regime or Iranian backed militias situated close to the demilitarised zone are the ones that start them".
Last week witnessed the “highest death toll in the demilitarised zone since it was announced”, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Agence France-Presse, when a government supported militia killed 23 fighters of a formerly US-backed rebel group, Jaish Al Izza, inside the planned buffer zone. In retaliation, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham fighters killed at least eight Syrian government troops.
The Syrian regime has vowed to recover Idlib, which remains the last major rebel bastion in the country. However, a full-scale attack, such as what has happened in previous rebel-controlled areas, remains out of the question, says Mr Oliver. “Turkey and Russia are both trying to keep the situation in Idlib under control. The former can’t afford another security crisis at its border while the latter wants to maintain its privileged position as Turkey’s key negotiating partner in the Syria peace talks”.