Strategic observation

Spotlight: 1st step of Syria's demilitarized zone deal finishes amid doubts of full implementation

2018-10-11 18:12:54 (Beijing Time)         English.news.cn

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DAMASCUS, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- As the Russian-Turkish demilitarized zone deal has finished its first step of withdrawing rebels' heavy weapons from the planned zone, doubts still shadow the full implementation of the deal, analysts said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels finished withdrawing heavy weapons from the planned demilitarized zone on Tuesday.

The withdrawal of the rebels' heavy weapons comes as part of the deal established between Turkey and Russia late last month over the creation of a demilitarized buffer zone in northern Syria.

The planned buffer zone is 15 to 20 km wide and should be established by Oct. 15.

The demilitarized zone will include areas in Idlib, which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, as well as adjacent countryside areas of the provinces of Hama, Latakia and Aleppo.

The Syrian government has welcomed the deal but noted that it was temporary instead of a permanent one.

The observatory said the Russian and Turkish sides are preparing to start patrolling the planned zone after heavy weapons were pulled out.

Turkey's role in the deal was to push the rebels to withdraw heavy weapons and fighters.

Pro-government al-Watan newspaper said Thursday that the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, otherwise known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, will place hurdles to a full implementation of the Russian-Turkish deal.

Al-Watan cited sources as saying that the next step is the most difficult, which is to persuade the rebels and extremists to withdraw from the demilitarized zone.

The same sources said that ultra-radical rebel groups will not withdraw as they "have not received enough assurances from Turkey to guarantee the fate of its foreign fighters, whose original countries will not let them back."

The newspaper said the topic of foreign fighters in Idlib is important as Turkey fears that such fighters would infiltrate its countries and cause security issues.

The Turkish intelligence also faces another difficulty as it has yet to reach a formula to move the rebels out of the demilitarized zone to areas agreed upon in the deal.

Al-Watan said that the al-Qaida-linked groups and its allied fighters launched overnight attacks on Syrian military positions in the northeastern countryside of Latakia and the western countryside of Aleppo on Tuesday.

The observatory said that the Syrian army shelled the rebel-held areas in the northern mountains of Latakia after the clashes.

In Damascus, experts haven't shunned the possibility of a "limited" military operation by the Syrian army as the al-Qaida-linked groups seem so far reluctant to abide by the deal.

Hussam Shuaib, a political expert, told Xinhua that "there could be a military offensive targeting some of the rebels who will not abide by the deal."

He pointed out that the possible offensive will not be wide-scale.

It is sure that there would be a military operation if Turkey failed to convince the rebels to leave the demilitarized zone, Sharif Shehadeh, another political expert and former parliamentarian, told Xinhua.

Shehadeh said that Syria wants Idlib and all rebel-held areas back under the government control, which is the ultimate goal behind the demilitarized zone.

"The Syrian government eventually wants Idlib back and it will be better through negotiations and deal," he said.

He hoped the deal could be fully implemented to save the area from more bloodshed and violence.

In his latest TV appearance, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said the Turkish side is capable of making the deal a success.

The Turkish side has swayed over the rebel groups in Idlib and Turkey will likely live to its pledges in terms of pushing the rebels out of the demilitarized zone, according to al-Moallem.

The minister also mentioned the foreign fighters in Idlib, saying those will have to return to their original countries through Turkey, as they have originally come to Syria through the Turkish territories.