Russia, Turkey still working on 'details' of Idlib deal
The deal to avoid a Syrian government offensive on Idlib province is still being worked out by Russia and Turkey, the UN said on Thursday, stressing that the threat to civilians remained high.
"This is not a peace deal. It is an aversion of (a) whole-scale-war deal," the head of the United Nations Humanitarian Taskforce for Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva.
Syrian government ally Russia and rebel supporter Turkey reached an agreement to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib, Syria's last opposition bastion, where half of its three million residents have been displaced from areas retaken by Syrian forces.
While briefing the task force about the pact on Thursday, Russian and Turkish envoys made clear they "are still working... on the details," Egeland said.
He expressed hope it was an indication that "the big war was averted" in Idlib, although Russia stressed it would continue operating against fighters it identifies as terrorists.
"I see a great potential for a lot of fighting," Egeland said. "We are concerned for the civilians in these areas, so it is not over."
The UN has repeatedly warned that a full-scale assault on Idlib could trigger the bloodiest episode of Syria's seven-year war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions.
Despite the ongoing concerns, Egeland said he was "relieved" for now.
"The outcome here was the least bad of (the) realistic solutions," he said.
On Wednesday, Syrian opposition activists said thousands of people who were recently displaced by violence in northwest Syria have returned home in the wake of the Russia-Turkey deal
The United Nations said that in the first 12 days of September, over 38,000 people were internally displaced by an intense Russian-backed regime aerial bombing campaign in Idlib and neighbouring provinces.
Most of them headed toward the border with Turkey, packing already overcrowded camps there, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
It said over 4,500 are estimated to have spontaneously returned to their homes shortly afterward when regime bombardment stopped.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that some 7,000 people have returned to their towns and villages since Monday, when Russia and Turkey announced the deal.
Syria-based opposition activist Yazan Mohammed said the flow of people back to their homes started days before Monday's deal was announced between Russia and Turkey as residents were expecting it.
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