Russia-Turkey Idlib deal 'temporary', says Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday that the Russian-Turkish deal to avert a military offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib is a "temporary one" that prevented bloodshed but that his government's goal is to restore control over all of Syria.
His comments were made during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling al-Baath Arab Socialist Party.
The Turkish-backed umbrella group for Syrian rebels said Sunday that it has started implementing the deal reached between Russia and Turkey to demilitarise the front lines between Syrian government forces and the opposition in Idlib province.
Naji al-Mustafa, spokesman for 15-member National Front for Liberation, said Sunday the groups have unanimously agreed to implement the deal reached last month and expect to demilitarise 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) along the front lines by October 15.
He said rebel forces have started withdrawing their heavy weaponry back from the demilitarised zone a day earlier after Turkish troops reinforced the area to monitor violations. He added that the opposition forces will keep their forward bases and light and medium weapons in place.
"Our forces will remain on the front lines in defense positions armed with light and medium weapons," al-Mustafa said. "Heavy weapons were mostly in back posts in our bases. So the factions will maintain their readiness to fight in these areas in case of any emergency."
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the militant group who control most of Idlib, has not said whether it will comply with the deal.
The Turkey-Russia deal also calls for the removal of all members of Syrian radical groups from the demilitarised zone. It is not clear if whether HTS have agreed to move out.
In his comments on Sunday, Assad called the West's objection to an offensive in Idlib "hysterical" adding that a Syrian regime military victory there would have foiled their plans against Syria. The Assad regime accuses western countries of seeking to divide Syria and of supporting "terrorist" groups, an umbrella term it uses for most opposition factions.
He said Syria is now heading toward "the battle" to rehabilitate segments of society that supported what he called "chaos and terrorism." He didn't elaborate.
Assad's government, backed by Russia, has been holding a series of so-called "reconciliation" deals with former rebels, under which they have been force to surrender their weapons and accept the return of government authorities in areas they had seized before.