21:36 GMT28 October 2020
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - After liberating Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian governmental army will focus on clearing the country's eastern regions of militants, President Bashar Assad has said in an interview with Rossiya 24 broadcaster.

    "Idlib is the key task now, from the military point of view. Obviously, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has hurled all effort into it following an order by the Americans, there is no doubt in it, since after liberating Idlib we will focus on liberating the eastern regions. I have repeatedly said that Idlib is the main outpost, and they have made every effort to prevent its liberation so that we could not move to the east", Assad said.

    "However, we maintain contact with people living in the eastern regions. They are displeased and anxious over the US occupation", the Syrian president added.

    Fighting in Idlib escalated last week after militants carried out an operation against Syrian government troops, prompting retaliatory attacks after which the Turkish military said that more than 30 service members had been killed by the Syrian forces. The Russian Defence Ministry said that the Turkish military members who were for an unknown reason among the terrorists had become caught up in the attack.

    In September 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks in Sochi devoted specifically to the Idlib de-escalation zone. They agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in the province, which meant that all heavy weaponry operated by terrorist groups was to be pulled back, and radical militants, including members of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, previously known as the Nusra Front*, were to leave the zone.

    Russia has repeatedly insisted that Turkey failed to implement its commitments under the 2018 bilateral deal on Idlib, particularly failing to distinguish between members of the armed opposition who are ready for engaging in peace talks with the government and jihadists.

    *Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra, known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is a terrorist group banned in Russia

    Tags:
    Bashar al-Assad, militants, Idlib, army, Syria
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