Syria’s foreign minister said Syrian forces stand ready to fight Takfiri militants around the northwestern region of Idlib if a Russian-Turkish deal is not implemented there.
The deal for Idlib sets up a buffer zone running 15-20 km (9-13 miles) deep into rebel territory that must be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all terrorists by Monday.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday it was up to Russia now to judge whether the agreement, which staved off a government offensive on the last notable swathe of territory in insurgent hands after seven years of war, was being fulfilled.
“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” al-Moualem said at a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus, Reuters reported.
“Idlib, as any other province, has to return to Syrian sovereignty. We prefer to have it through peaceful means, through reconciliation, but if not there (are) other options.”
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a Takfiri alliance also known as al-Qaeda in Syria, signaled on Sunday that it would abide by the terms of the deal, although it did not explicitly say so.
Moualem further said the government’s next target after recovering Idlib from rebels would be the area east of the Euphrates.
“After Idlib our target is east of the Euphrates,” he said, adding that the area must also return to Syrian sovereignty.
Idlib’s other main rebel faction, the so-called National Liberation Front, a Turkish-backed militant alliance in Idlib, has already expressed its support for the agreement.
The deal sets up a demilitarized zone running 15-20 km (9-13 miles) deep into rebel territory that must be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all terrorist groups by Monday, Oct. 15.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached an accord with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on September 17, under which all militants in the planned buffer area must hand over their heavy weapons and terrorist groups must withdraw.