Erdogan to offer evacuation of 'rebels', pass control of Idlib to Turkey-backed groups - Sabah

by The Region    


Ankara has prepared a plan to offer safe passage to armed rebel groups out of their last stronghold, the province of Idlib, in efforts to avoid the bloodshed of a major assault by Damascus, Turkey's Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper reported on Friday.

As the Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airplanes and Iranian factions in Syria, preparing to retake Idlib, Erdogan drew up a plan to avoid the offensive to be offered in trilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Tehran on Friday.

According to the plan, 12 armed groups - including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda affiliate, in Idlib - would lay down arms and be evacuated, the newspaper said, quoting anonymous sources. 

The groups would be offered safe passage to a buffer zone, under the monitoring of so-called "moderate rebels" backed by Turkey.

Foreign fighters in the group would be allowed to return to their home countries if they wish, Sabah said. 

But the groups who refused to surrender and evacuation would be the target of imminent Idlib operations. 

According to Erdogan's plan, once the evacuation is complete, Turkey-backed groups will control Idlib and "ensure Idlib's security". 

The plan will also secure the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province and mineral deposits in the region, it said. 

Turkey, which has already listed al-Nusra and al-Qaeda as terror groups, added the Syrian affiliate, HTS, to the list last month amid the news about possible Idlib operation by Syria.

According to Middle East Eye, analysts say Ankara could be prepared to accept a limited Russian-backed Syrian government offensive against hard-line groups, even if it leaves the question of the long-term control of the province open for now.