Al Qaeda of Syria, known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham or as HTS for short, has just published a statement today officially rejecting the monumental Idlib agreement that was previously signed between Russia and Turkey. In the statement, they vow to fight to the last man. The Idlib agreement promised to save Idlib from a military incursion that laid the likelihood of the loss of innocent, civilian lives. It is important to remember from the perspective of international law, that political views and allegiances by themselves, of a population, do not change their status as civilians.
In the statement which was published across the social media, HTS stated that they will not hand in any of their heavy weapons, adding that their weapons is a red-line for them and there is no negotiation regarding their red-line.
The Idlib agreement was signed by Russia and Turkey at a meeting in Sochi on Sept 17th, 2018. This relied on Turkey working with what is known in expert circles as the TFSA – or Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, to agree to such an agreement.
This raises questions now, to what extent does act upon the needs of either the U.S or other players besides Turkey – or if Turkey itself is playing yet another round of duplicity-for-concessions. With this player in the deal having resolved not to lay down their weapons, and submit to Turkish and Russian joint governance during an interim period, this means – for now – that Syria may have to call upon Iran and Syria to aid it in a forceful clean-up of the city, to liberate it and restore the rightful sovereign order of Damascus.
The hard-negotiated deal sets up a demilitarized zone running 15-20 kilometers (9-13 miles) deep into rebel territory, and in this it is understood that all heavy weapons and all jihadist groups must be evacuated by Monday, Oct. 15th.
HTS, Al Qaeda of Syria (al Sham) was hesitant to give a concrete response. As today was the deadline, they waited until the last minute to issue their official pronouncement.
This means that something here is quite likely. They did not know from the start whether they were willing or unwilling to go along with this proposal, and they used this period of time to take bids from the other foreign belligerent parties – including perhaps the U.S itself – in order to finally decide whether to acquiesce or reject this deal.
One critical factor in this, however, is that Lavrov, echoing Assad, has made it clear that unlike past instances of ‘green buses to the rescue’, there would be no relocation of Al Qaeda to yet another – as it is non-existent – location. Lavrov crystallized this with the maxim – trial or extermination, no escape.
While Erdogan at this point can be seen as the savior of a (T) FSA that is an increasingly, and obviously so, a Neo-Ottoman movement, loyal to modern Turkey, and can offer these fighters an entrance into Turkey – it would be politically and diplomatically far less tenable to extend such to Al Qaeda. This is especially so since a number of crack-downs on civil liberties in Turkey were done so under the pretext of fighting Al Qaeda in Turkey.