A widely expected military offensive against rebel-held Idlib Province in northern Syria has been canceled, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. This follows a deal reached between Russia and Turkey to establish a new buffer zone in the area.
The deal will see a 15-25 km wide buffer zone established between government and rebel territory, inside Idlib Province. The rebels are to leave this area, which will be jointly patrolled by Turkey and Russia, and are to withdraw all heavy weapons from the area.
This deal aims to both push the rebels further back toward the Turkish border, and to preclude a military confrontation with Turkey itself, as they’ve been reinforcing their own positions in Idlib in recent days.
The delays any reckoning for what’s left of the rebel-held territory, but still appears not to have any specific associated plan for addressing the territorial dispute, nor the presence of a substantial al-Qaeda force in Syria, beyond pushing them back a bit and starting a new buffer zone.
In the meantime, this will both mean an end to the Syrian and Russian airstrikes against the province and put rebel artillery farther away from the rest of the country, limiting civilian casualties. Whether a deal results afterwards is anyone’s guess, but there still appears to be little interest in direct talks on either side.