Iran and Syrian opposition groups have welcomed an agreement between Russia and Turkey to avert an assault on Syria's last major rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib.
“Intensive responsible diplomacy” between Russia, Turkey, and Iran succeeded in “avert[ing] war” in Idlib, “with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on September 18.
“Diplomacy works,” he added.
Syrian opposition groups also hailed the agreement reached by the Russian and Turkish presidents on September 17 to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib to separate government and rebel forces.
Yahya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), told the Reuters news agency that the deal safeguarded the lives of Syrians and was an indication that the "path of peace" must now be opened.
Mustafa Sejari of the Free Syria Army (FSA) said the agreement “preserves lives of civilians and their direct targeting by the regime. It buries [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] dreams of imposing his full control over Syria."
Moscow and Tehran have given Assad crucial support throughout the Syrian war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.
The three allies have been pressing ahead with an expected Syrian government offensive in Idlib Province, saying they want to put an end to what they call the last main “terrorist” stronghold in Syria.
Turkey, which is backing rebel groups, has called for a cease-fire to prevent what he said would be a "bloodbath" and another major refugee crisis on Turkey's southern border.
The country is already home to more than 3 million Syrians who have fled the war.
After meeting in Russia’s Black sea resort city of Sochi on September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said they agreed to create a buffer zone in Idlib.
Speaking at a joint news conference, Putin said it will be 15 to 25 kilometers wide and come into force by October 15.
“Radical fighters,” including the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, would have to leave the zone, he said.
The Russian president also said that under the deal, rebel groups will have to pull out all heavy weaponry, including tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, and mortar launchers from the area by October 10.
Erdogan said Turkish and Russian troops will carry out coordinated military patrols on the borders of the buffer zone.
"We will prevent a humanitarian tragedy that could happen as a result of military action," he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the deal meant there will be no offensive in Idlib.
Idlib Province, home to some 3 million people, is the last major stronghold of rebel and jihadist groups that have been trying to overthrow Assad for the past 7 1/2 years, in a civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions.