In Syria, buffer zone quiet but war still a risk

The war in Syria, provoked by Western imperialist powers in 2011 and bringing enormous suffering to the Syrian people, can end soon if the process now taking place in Idlib province in the country’s northeast advances with no new imperialist intervention. Reactionary factions, first armed by NATO, the Gulf monarchies and Israel, still threaten to unleash havoc. The Syrian army postponed its Idlib offensive to allow an orderly end of the war. Leukefeld is an expert on the region and regular correspondent for the German daily newspaper, Junge Welt, which published the following article Oct. 12. Translation by Workers World Managing Editor John Catalinotto.

Information from both Ankara and Moscow indicates that the agreement on a buffer zone between combat units in Idlib and the Syrian army has been largely adhered to. According to the Turkish-Russian agreement, the fighters are to withdraw their heavy weapons from Idlib by Oct. 15. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Oct. 11 that the withdrawal could take one or two days longer. From the Russian point of view, this is no problem as long as it is carried out in full.

Turkish media already confirmed a week ago that missile-launching ramps, medium-range missiles, rocket launchers, mortars and other heavy equipment had been withdrawn. It is unclear, however, where the war equipment was transported to and who controls it.

Last weekend, the Turkish army itself moved into the province of Idlib with tanks and heavy vehicles, allegedly to secure the buffer zone. Parliament on Oct. 9 approved an order allowing Turkish troops to operate in Syria and Iraq for another year in order to safeguard national security.

French news agency AFP had reported on Oct. 8 that some combat units had strengthened their military stations and tunnels in the area of the buffer zone. “Abu Walid,” a commander of the National Liberation Front, is quoted as saying that they had instructions to “stay” under the arrangement. A group close to al-Qaida — the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance determined to take Syria, formerly the Nusra Front — is also said, according to AFP, to be preparing for an attack.

The Syrian daily Al-Watan (The Nation) reported on Oct. 11 that various groups listed as terrorists were refusing to approve the buffer zone. Besides HTS, the article named the Islamic Turkestan Party and Haras Al-Din (Guardians of Religion), which are all associated with al-Qaida. As a reason for their refusal, “sources close to the armed groups” told Al-Watan that these groups had not received sufficient security guarantees from Turkey. This is particularly true of the foreign mercenaries in their ranks, whose countries of origin have refused to readmit the fighters.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had already warned the French television station BFMTV in September that in the event of a military operation by the Syrian armed forces in Idlib, the fighters could “scatter in all directions” and pose a major “security risk to Europe.” “Around a dozen” French jihadists would then possibly return to France.

The conflicts among the various combat factions in Idlib have not ended, however. More than 200 commanders have reportedly fallen victim to the bloody competition since the beginning of the year. This involves the control of connecting roads, weapons, relief supplies and money.

Even if combat units decide to surrender their weapons and seek reconciliation with the Syrian government, this can lead to bloody clashes with other factions. Armed combatants and also people in public life who advocate for an agreement with Damascus are threatened, kidnapped, arrested or executed.

The scene of an internal battle on Oct. 9 was the town of Latamne, just a few kilometers from the town of Maharda (Hama province). The Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Hostile Sides in Syria, which monitors the withdrawal of combat units in Idlib, reported that jihadists in the Islamic State group (IS) had attacked the HTS at Latamne. Two members of the “White Helmets” and four fighters were killed. The IS captured two barrels of chlorine.

This was corroborated by recordings taken by Russian surveillance drones or reconnaissance planes and distributed by the Ministry of Defense. The stolen chlorine barrels are now said to be in the hands of the jihadist group Haras Al-Din in an area southwest of Aleppo.

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