A high-ranking Syrian official says government forces will eventually defeat foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants operating in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib, and will retake the territory either through military operations or peaceful means.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the pro-government and Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad described the Turkish-Russian Idlib deal as part of a wider diplomatic track, which led to the creation of demilitarized de-escalation areas that later returned to the state rule.
“As we were victorious in every part of Syria we will be victorious in Idlib and the message is very clear to everyone who is concerned by this matter: We are coming to Idlib through war or peaceful means,” Mekdad said.
He further noted that all Syrian territory would return to the state control, echoing President Bashar Assad’s vow to recover “every inch” of the conflict-plagued Arab country.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Russia’s coastal city of Sochi on September 17, and agreed to divide Idlib into a demilitarized zone between militant-held and government-controlled areas.
Under the agreement, Turkish and Russian armed forces will conduct patrols in the demilitarized zone in Idlib. Militants deemed “radical” are to withdraw from the zone by the middle of next month. Heavy weapons are to be removed by October 10.
Idlib serves as the last militant stronghold in Syria, following the defeat of Takfiri terrorists across most of the country in military campaigns.
It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 members of different factions of armed groups, which Syria, Russia and Turkey consider terrorists, are active in the volatile province, which is home to around three million inhabitants.
Some 60 percent of the province is said to be controlled by members of the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, which is a coalition of different factions of terror outfits, largely composed of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
Moscow believes that a 15-20 kilometer buffer zone would help stop attacks from Idlib-based militants on Syrian army positions and Russia’s military bases in the flashpoint region.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has yet to state its position on Idlib deal. Smaller militant factions have rejected it.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.