0129 GMT February 17, 2019
"The position of the Syrian state is clear. This province and other Syrian territories remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state [control]," Assad said, adding that the deal over Idlib was concluded as a temporary measure to prevent bloodshed there.
The Syrian president made the remarks in a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Al-Baath Arab Socialist Party in the capital Damascus on Sunday, saying that all the fuss about Idlib “stems from the fact that it is a fateful thing for them, because the Syrians’ victory in it will lead to the failure of their plans,” Press TV reported.
The deal, agreed last month between Turkey and Syria’s close ally, Russia, provides for the establishment of a U-shaped buffer zone around Idlib that would be free of both terrorists and heavy weapons.
“The agreement is a temporary measure through which the state has realized many achievements on the ground,” SANA reported the president as saying.
Under the Idlib agreement, Turkey and Russia would carry out coordinated military patrols on the borders of the buffer zone in a bid to detect and prevent provocation by third parties. All terrorists in the demilitarized zone, which surrounds Idlib and also parts of the adjacent provinces of Aleppo and Hama, must pull out heavy arms by Wednesday, and Takfiri groups must withdraw by October 15.
Assad also stressed that Syria’s enemies would ramp up their attempts to drain the Arab country militarily, politically, economically and socially as Damascus progresses towards victory, predicting that this would pose internal challenges, which are no less serious than war.
Syria is heading toward the rehabilitation of “some segments, which incubated chaos and terrorism, so that these segments will not be a loophole through which Syria will be targeted in the future,” the Syrian president added.
It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 members of different factions of armed groups are active in the volatile province, which is home to around three million inhabitants.
Armed groups completed the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline in Idlib on Monday, under the deal between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarized zone, the state-owned Anadolu Agency said.
The Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) alliance said on Saturday that the process of withdrawing heavy weapons had begun.
Some 60 percent of the Idlib Province is said to be controlled by members of the so-called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, which is a coalition of different factions of terror outfits, largely composed of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Al-Nusra Front.
Russia believes that a buffer zone would help stop attacks from Idlib-based terrorists on Syrian Army positions and Russia's military bases in the flashpoint region.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed terrorism since March 2011.