Germany To Hold Four-Nation Meeting On Syria, What to Expect?
Will a four-nation summit in Germany resolve the ongoing crisis in the Idlib province of Syria and will rebel groups abide by any “buffer zone”?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to hold a meeting with the presidents of Turkey, Russia, and France regarding the latest situation in war-torn Syria in October. Chancellor has called the talks very urgent given recent fights in the rebel-controlled province of Idlib.
“We are in favour of a four-way meeting with the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France and myself because the situation (in Syria) is still fragile. We aim to do this in the month of October,” Merkel said after meeting with her Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin last Friday.
Erdogan had hinted that he would plan a multi-nation summit to discuss Syria which was intended to be held on September 7 in Istanbul. Erdogan wanted to invite Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Merkel herself, but the meeting never took place.
Recently, Turkey who has supported Syrian rebels since 2016, has held intensive talks with Russia and Iran in hopes of ending the bloodshed in Syria. Russia and Turkey also held talks in Sochi on September 17. In the summit, both agreed to set up a buffer zone in Idlib aimed at stopping military confrontations.
On the other side, Syria has received military support from Iran and Russia. They have agreed not to attack and seize Idlib. Idlib is the last frontier for rebels who have been fighting for seven years to oust the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
The Russia-Turkey agreement was approved following international warnings that a military attack would trigger a devastating bloodshed in Idlib, which has a total population of three million people.
Previous Three-Nation Talks Failed To Reach Agreement
In the second week of September, Iran hosted a three-nation summit involving the country’s president Hassan Rouhani, and his Russian and French counterparts Putin and Erdogan with the hopes of producing a solution to Idlib.
The summit failed to reach an agreement on any ceasefire. Erdogan supported a cease-fire solution, claiming it would be the victory of the summit. The continued fight in Idlib will force Syrians to seek refuge in other countries like Turkey, who has received around three million Syrian refugees since the war broke out in 2011.
However, Erdogan’s call for a truce was not welcomed by Putin and Rouhani. The Russian leader argued that the cease-fire would not be of any use as it did not involve militant groups labeled as terrorists.
Why Does Idlib Matter?
Idlib is a province located near the Turkish border city of Hatay and is home to 3 million Syrians. Rebel groups have controlled the region since 2015.
From Syria’s perspective, Idlib is like an open door to the Mediterranean and is close to Latakia, the location of Russia’s airbase which is considered Assad’s fort.
Idlib shares around 130 kilometers of border with Turkey, who is worried that as the conflict escalates it will trigger a new wave of migration. Turkey has received more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and is trying its best to maintain a truce in the region.
Will rebel groups surrender?
An attack on Idlib may force more Syrians to flee the country and lead to a worsening humanitarian crisis. Failaq al-Sham, one of the Turkish-backed rebel factions in Northern Syria, said that it would not pull back from the front lines of the buffer zone set up by the Russia-Turkey deal. The group’s announcement came hours after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had reported Failaq al-Sham had already begun withdrawing from the zone.
“We will leave in this buffer area all what is needed to repel any treason or aggression such as anti-armour weapons,” the group said.
The buffer zone is expected to be set up by October 15, will be 15-20 kilometers deep and set up along the existing front between rebel and Syrian government forces. Russian and Turkish troops will monitor the zone to make sure all rebel groups leave the area by the middle of October.
The main rebel group in Syria, Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to announce their decision as to whether to agree or disagree with the new buffer zone.