Still no official response from jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham over Russia-Turkey agreement


A small jihadist group has opposed Syrian rebels over a demilitarized zone, agreed between Russia and Turkey, for a demilitarized zone in northwest Syria.

But the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, still has not declared its stance on the agreement. Under the terms, a zone — 15-20 km (9-12.5 mile) wide and 100 km (62 miles) long — will be established between opposition- and regime-controlled areas in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces. A Russian-Assad regime offensive to reoccupy the area has been suspended.

The Huras al-Din (Guardians of Religion) faction said the agreement is part of a plan “to eliminate the jihadist project”: “We advise our mujahideen brothers in this decisive and dangerous phase…(to) begin military operations against the enemies of religion to thwart their plans.”

Huras al-Din was formed earlier this year by fighters who split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham when the bloc withdrew allegiance to Al Qa’eda in 2016.

A source close to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham said Sunday, “The [battle] field concerns us more than what is going on in politics, and we will not deviate from the way we took in the fighting against the regime.”

The National Liberation Front, the rebel coalition backed by Turkey, confirmed on Saturday that it will adhere to last Monday’s agreement.

Syria Daily, Sept 23: Idlib Rebels —- We Will Cooperate With Demilitarized Zone

(Thanks to Mahmoud Abbi for information for this article.)

Erdoğan: Opposition Must Be Part of Political Resolution in Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has staked out another line against the Assad regime, saying the “moderate opposition” must be part of the political resolution of northwest Syria.

Erdoğan told Russian newspaper Kommersant, “There may be different approaches of different countries about moderate opposition. But we are thinking that the moderate opposition should remain in the political process.”

The President said the opposition’s involvement is needed to fulfil the agenda of the Geneva and Astana talks involving the UN, Turkey, Russia, and Iran. He said Turkey opposes any attempt to undermine moderate opposition by presenting them as “terrorists”.

It was unclear if Russia, which agreed a demilitarized zone in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, supported Erdoğan’s remarks. Moscow has presented all rebels in the area as “militants”, “extremists”, and “terrorists”.

Ankara says it is trying to distance rebel factions from the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which took much of Idlib from rebels in 2017.

Russia Thumps Chest Over Downing of Its Surveillance Plane

Russia has returned to a tougher line over last Monday’s accidentally downing of its surveillance plane, killing 15 personnel, by Assad regime anti-aircraft fire.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said Monday that Moscow’s personnel in Syria will block radar and satellite signals of any planes moving on the country from the Mediterranean.

The Minister also said Russia will finally provide S-300 air defense systems to Damascus: “In 2013 on a request from the Israeli side we suspended the delivery to Assad regime of the S-300 system, which was ready to be sent with Assad’s crews trained to use it. The situation has changed, and not due to our fault.”

Shoigu said, “Delivery of Russia’s S-300 to Syria will also stop Western coalition from carrying out uncontrolled attacks on Syrian territory.”

Last Monday Israeli F-16s fired missiles on regime targets in western Syria. Soon after the attack, a regime S-200 missile hit the Russian Il-20 plane, which crashed in the Mediterranean about 27 km (17 miles) off the coast.

Initially the Defense Ministry blamed the Israelis, saying the F-16s were using the Il-20 as cover and threatening retaliation. President Vladimir Putin stepped back after a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; however, the Ministry and Russian Embassy in Israel have repeated their criticism of the Israel Defense Forces as irresponsible and even guilty of a crime.

The IDF said on Sunday that an official inquiry had concluded that the Israeli F-16s did not hide behind any plane and Israeli fighter jets were in Israeli airspace when the Assad regime fired its S-200 missiles.

The Israeli military called for the continuation of the “deconfliction” mechanism, agreed in September 2015, between the IDF and the Russian military: “[This is] a common interest when facing the different challenges in the region.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov emphasized that the S-300 delivery to Damascus is not a step against Israel: “Our relations are far wider. This is an important issue, of course. But it is also our right and the right of sovereign Syria.”

The Kremlin added:

It should be obvious to everyone that Russia’s actions aimed at ensuring security for its troops are necessary. This is why in this case, Russia is guided solely by these interests, these actions are not directed against third countries, they are meant to protect our own troops.