Russia Says Syrian Idlib Offensive Off the Table, Erdogan and Putin Agree on Buffer Zone

Russian President Vladimir Putin says demilitarized zone will come into force by October 15; leaders agree to force out heavy weapons and 'radically minded' rebels

Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 17, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

The leaders of Turkey and Russia said on Monday they had agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Syria's Idlib province to separate Syrian government troops from rebel forces, with Turkish and Russian soldiers patrolling the zone to ensure it is respected. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said the agreement was that all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone, and that "radically-minded" rebels, including the Nusra front, would have to pull out of the zone.

The demilitarized zone will come into force by Oct. 15, Putin told reporters.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also spoke following the meeting between the two leaders, announcing that there will be no new military operation against Syria's Idlib by Syrian government forces and their allies, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Monday's meeting between Erdogan and Putin continued talks from an Iran-hosted summit last week, during which Putin dismissed Erdogan's proposal for a complete ceasefire in Syria.

Russia, the main military backer of the Syrian government, has so far agreed with rebel-sympathetic Turkey that groups recognized as terrorist organizations are not included in ceasefire efforts.

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Turkey has repeatedly warned of the grave humanitarian crisis that could erupt should Assad mount his assault on the rebel enclave.

Situated near the Turkish border in Syria's north-west, Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold after seven years of the devastating conflict in the country.

As Syrian state forces were poised to invade Idlib, Russia accused militants of conducting attacks and said it was preparing humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians.