Russia And Turkey Agree On A Demilitarized Zone In Syria's Last Rebel Stronghold The leaders of Russia and Turkey say they want to set up a buffer area in Idlib province by mid-October to avert a catastrophic military offensive.

Russia And Turkey Agree On A Demilitarized Zone In Syria's Last Rebel Stronghold

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Syria's government may not use its full strength against the last big rebel enclave in the country. Russia and Turkey worked out a deal to prevent a full assault. And this matters because Syria and its allies have been moving in on Idlib province in the northwest corner of the country where millions of civilians live, many of them after fleeing from elsewhere. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports on what is supposed to happen now.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken).

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out the plan that they say will avert a humanitarian disaster.


PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: They will create a demilitarized zone inside Idlib. It involves carving a 10 to 15-mile-long buffer on the province's southern fringes to separate rebel forces from Syrian regime troops. They'll remove heavy weaponry such as tanks and missile launchers, and extremist factions among the rebels will be forced to leave.


SHERLOCK: In the last weeks, activists and other residents in Idlib have captured on videos like these the barrages of airstrikes by the regime and Russia.


SHERLOCK: The regime says it targets extremists, but the bombs have also struck hospitals and schools. Government troops amassed on Idlib southern border as the regime threatened a full-scale ground assault. Rebel groups prepared for a fight.

TALIB TALIB: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: Talib Talib, who commands a rebel faction in Idlib that's backed by Turkey, says he welcomes the deal. He sees it as a sign that the Syrian regime, for all its rhetoric, also wants to avert a full-scale assault on Idlib because it knows that it would be costly.

TALIB: (Through interpreter) I think the Russians and the regime know if they attempted a ground invasion, there would be grave losses on their side. We are prepared for big battle.

SHERLOCK: Still, enforcing this plan will not be simple. Turkey and Russia say their troops will patrol the area, but it's not clear how they can force extremists to leave, or indeed if the regime's many different militias will agree to abide by the rules. Past efforts to bring about a ceasefire have failed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: This 45-year-old mother in Idlib says it only took a few days for the last deal to fall apart, and then the town where she lives was heavily bombed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: She feels too unsafe to give her name but says all she can do now is pray that this time it's different.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.

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