Civilians in the last major opposition area in Syria — Idlib and northern Hama Province in the northwest — have cautiously welcomed a Russian-Turkish agreement for a demilitarized zone, suspending for the moment a Russian-regime offensive to overrun the area.
But residents worried about whether the Assad regime will abide by the terms.
More than 3 million people — half of them displaced from other areas of Syria — live in the opposition territory. They were periodically bombed by Russia and the regime, in preparation for the ground offensive, until 10 days ago — the objections of Turkey, which has military personnel alongside rebels in the area, then checked the impending assault.
Under Monday’s agreement, following a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart, a a 15-20 km (9 to 12 mile) zone between opposition and regime areas will established with the withdrawal of “all radical fighters”.
Dr Habib Kshouf, 55, in Kherbet Eljoz near the town of Jisr al-Shughour, said:
The Sochi agreement gave people a glimpse of hope, that they would be spared an aerial and ground assault by government forces and Russia – at least for the time being. This would ensure the return of electricity, water, and other basic services to people here.
Ahmad Sabah, a civil society worker, expressed careful optimism, “All of the people in the liberated areas win something from this….[There is] a new-found security or — at the very least — calm, for the time being.”
But Yahya Daoud, 23, originally from southern Damascus but now in a refugee camp in northern Idlib, cautioned, “We’ve seen the regime use all sorts of excuses in the past when it bombed civilians in Idlib. So the fear of a government assault is always intact. As civilians, our trust is in Turkey.”
And Hikmat al-Alis, 25, said from the town of Ariha, We’re still confused. We’re not sure how this agreement is going to play out. With HTS [the jihadist bloc of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham] asked to remain outside of the new zone, will this mean the start of a new battle?”
Rallies for the Revolution
Under the threat of the offensive, large rallies assembled on Fridays, maintaining the call of the Syrian Revolution for the removal of the Assad regime.
They have been renewed by Monday’s agreement, with demonstrations across Idlib Province yesterday:
Meanwhile, Ibrahim a-Shimali, a media activist in southern Idlib province, remembered the devastation that has been suffered:
We have lost hundreds of thousands of martyrs. Millions have been displaced outside Syria [who] cannot return to their towns and villages.
Many think that the agreement and the survival of Idlib is in favor of the revolution, but I think we have already lost a lot of what was in our hands before .