Syria’s military prepared for an Idlib offensive if ‘deal’ fails

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria announced that he has decided to step down from his post by next month. While claiming his decision was made “purely for personal reasons” a U.N. official told TV7 that the deadlock in advancing a political process has frustrated the world body’s envoy. That said, Staffan de Mistura told a session of the Security Council vis-à-vis Syria, that he would dedicate his last month to “actively verify” the visibility of implementing an “inclusive constitutional committee” and also assist in the process of implementing the “Sochi Declaration,” that aimed at resolving the Idlib crisis. According to de Mistura “My intention and as per the secretary-general’s instructions is to dedicate this crucial last month to actively verify once and for all the visibility of the implementation of a credible and inclusive constitutional committee and hence also the implementation of the Sochi Declaration.” The Sochi declaration sought to implement a buffer zone running between 15 to 20 kilometers deep into territory, currently held by Islamist-rebel groups, effectively sterilizing the zone from all heavy weapons and jihadists. The deal for Idlib was reached between Russia and Turkey. While Russian officials assured their Turkish counterparts that Damascus will comply, Ankara holds a vital role in the agreement’s implementation, as it apparently has influence over the ruling Islamist organizations in Syria’s northwestern province, including over Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance spearheaded by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate – the Nusra Front. While Tahrir al-Sham signaled earlier this week that it would abide by the terms of the Idlib agreement, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem announced that his country’s military stands ready to fight the Islamist organizations if the deal would fail. The Syrian Foreign Minister stated, “We cannot remain silent towards the current situation in Idlib if the Nusra Front refuses to commit to this agreement.” / “I say we have to wait but at the same time, our armed forces are ready around Idlib.” The Syrian top diplomat further underscored that it was up to Russia to judge whether the agreement, which thwarted a government offensive on the last notable territory in the hands of Islamist rebels, after seven years of war. Meanwhile, minister al-Muallem revealed that the next stage of the Syrian offensive will target the east of the Euphrates, which includes territories under U.S.-backed control. Walid Al-Moualem added that “To be honest with you after Idlib, our target is the east of the Euphrates. It is up to brothers, whether they are tribes or Kurds, to decide what they want in the future, but under the slogan of returning Syrian sovereignty to all Syrian territories.”