Russia's Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said the country will not carry out a military operation in Syria's Idlib. Meanwhile, Turkey's FM Mevlut Cavusoglu says there would be no change in status of Syria's Idlib after deal signed by Turkey, Russia.

The Syrian regime vows to press on with its campaign to recover
The Syrian regime vows to press on with its campaign to recover "every inch" of the country, including Idlib. ()

Syrian opposition officials praised a deal between Turkey and Russia over Idlib province on Tuesday, saying it had spared the opposition and rebel-held region a bloody regime offensive and would thwart regime leader Bashar al Assad's aim of recapturing all Syria.

Damascus, while welcoming the agreement unveiled on Monday, vowed to press on with its campaign to recover "every inch" of the country.

Syria's ambassador to Lebanon said the deal would test Turkey's ability to deliver on promises to disarm rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad's most powerful ally, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed at a summit on Monday to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib from which "radical" rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.

The agreement has diminished the prospects of a Syrian regime offensive, which the United Nations warned would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about three million people.

Civilians to remain in Syria's Idlib, Turkish FM says

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday said civilians will continue to remain in Idlib province following the deal.

"The borders of Idlib will be protected under the memorandum of understanding signed in Sochi. There would be no change in the status of Idlib," Cavusoglu said at the quadruple ministerial meeting in Turkey's capital, Ankara.

Cavusoglu said heavy weapons will be removed from the demilitarised zone by October 15.

"Civilians will stay, only terrorist groups will be removed."

Cavusoglu added the region would be cleared off from "radicals" and a ceasefire would be ensured.

He added Russia will take necessary measures to protect the de-escalation zone in Idlib.

The minister also said two main highways in Syria will be re-opened for traffic by the end of 2018. 

'Assad's dreams are buried'

The Idlib region and adjoining territory north of Aleppo represents the Syrian opposition and rebels last big foothold in Syria, where Iranian and Russian military support has helped Assad recover most of the areas once held by the insurgency.

But strong Turkish opposition to an Idlib attack has obstructed regime plans for an offensive, and the agreement announced on Monday appears to preserve a role for Turkey in the northwest – something seen as anathema to Assad.

"The Idlib deal preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries Assad's dreams of imposing his full control over Syria," Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official said.

"This area will remain in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and will force the regime and its supporters to start a serious political process that leads to a real transition that ends Assad's rule," Sejari said.

The spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission said the deal had halted an offensive for which regime forces had been mobilising in recent weeks, calling it a "victory for the will for life over the will for death."

The "scenario of attack is practically excluded, at least for a period of time that is not small, and we hope that it will be permanent," Yahya al Aridi said.

The demilitarised zone will be monitored by Russian and Turkish forces, the leaders said on Monday.

Neither Putin, not Erdogan explained how they planned to differentiate "radically minded" rebels from other anti-Assad groups. 

It was also not immediately clear how much of the city of Idlib fell within the zone.

Putin said the decision was to establish by October 15 a demilitarised area 15–20 km deep along the contact line between rebel and regime fighters, with militants to be withdrawn from the area.

Pro-Assad newspaper says regime to return to Idlib 

Al-Watan, a pro-regime newspaper on Tuesday said the zone would stretch for 15 km around Idlib city.

It also said Syria's regime institutions would return to Idlib by the end of the year in the final phase of the deal after insurgents hand over all of their heavy weapons and move away from civilian areas.

Citing unidentified diplomatic sources in Moscow, it said any factions rejecting the agreement would be considered enemies "even of the Turkish army and will be classed as terrorists that must be fought."

Erdogan, who had feared another cross-border exodus of Syrian refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, said the deal would allow opposition supporters to stay where they were and avert a humanitarian crisis.

Putin said that by October 10, all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks, rocket systems would be removed from the demilitarised zone, and said this was Erdogan's suggestion.

Earlier this month, Putin publicly rebuffed a proposal from Erdogan for a ceasefire when the two met along with Iran's president for a summit in Tehran.

Source: AA