AMMAN (Reuters) – A Syrian rebel official said on Tuesday a deal between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib had ended Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s hopes of regaining full control of his country.
“The Idlib deal preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries Assad’s dreams of imposing his full control over Syria,” Mustafa Sejari, a Free Syria Army (FSA) official, told Reuters.
Sejari said the deal reached in Sochi on Monday between Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin led to de facto control by the opposition of a “geographic area” that would be a springboard for a political transition that ends Assad’s “authoritarian” rule.
“This area will remain in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and will force the regime and its supporters to start a serious political process that leads to a real transition that ends Assad’s rule,” Sejari said.
Russia, the biggest outside backer of Assad in his fight against rebels, has been preparing for an offensive on the city of Idlib, which is controlled by rebels and home to about 3 million people.
But after Putin’s talks with Erdogan, who has opposed a military operation against the rebels in Idlib, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters there would not now be an offensive.
Erdogan, who had feared another cross-border exodus of Syrian refugees to join the 3.5 million already in Turkey, said the deal would allow opposition supporters to stay where they were and avert a humanitarian crisis.