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Hezbollah staying in Syria: Nasrallah

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Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Wednesday welcomed the agreement between Russia and Turkey on the Syrian rebel holdout of Idlib, but said Hezbollah would remain in Syria until further notice.

The deal would take Syria “to a new phase” and there could be “a widespread calm without battles,” but that, based on consultations with the Syrian government, Hezbollah had decided to remain.

“We will stay there [in Syria] even after the settlement in Idlib … as long as the Syrian government wants … we are staying there until further notice.”

The broad terms of the agreement outlined by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week will create a force between the two powers that will jointly oversee the creation of a 15-kilometer demilitarized zone between rebel forces and Syrian government forces.

Thousands of residents of Idlib meanwhile headed home within 48 hours of a deal being announced to avoid a government offensive to retake the province, an activist group said Wednesday.

As airstrikes intensified earlier this month, the looming threat of a Russian-backed assault had prompted tens of thousands of civilians to flee areas near the front line.

But many headed home after the deal was reached, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Around 7,000 people have returned to their towns and villages since the announcement of the deal Monday, especially in the southeast of Idlib and the north of [neighboring] Hama,” Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based observatory said.

The observatory added that a number of militant factions in Idlib, including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din had rejected the deal. The agreement stipulates that “radical terrorist groups” withdraw from the province by Oct. 15.

At a camp for the displaced in the town of Atme on the Turkish border Tuesday, dozens of Syrians held up banners welcoming the agreement.

“We will return, God permitting,” one banner said.

“Thank you to our Turkish brothers,” said another, signed by the people of a town in the north of Hama province that had been bombarded in recent weeks.

One of the demonstrators, Marhaf al-Jadou, said he was tired of running from the shelling and airstrikes.

“Enough of being displaced and sitting in tents. We want to return to our homes and our children to their schools,” he said.

The United Nations has given cautious backing to the Russian-Turkish agreement.

Around half of the 3 million residents of the rebel zone in and around Idlib have fled from other parts of Syria recaptured by government forces in previous offensives.

Meanwhile, Putin has accepted Israel’s offer to share detailed information about its air raid which triggered fire by Syrian forces that downed a Russian reconnaissance plane, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

The Israeli air force chief will fly Thursday to Moscow in order to present the findings, the Israeli army said in a statement.

Syrian forces mistook the Russian Il-20 for Israeli aircraft, killing all 15 people aboard Monday. Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed the plane’s loss on Israel, but Putin sought to defuse tensions, pointing at “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin Tuesday to express sorrow over the death of the plane’s crew, blamed Syria and offered to dispatch Israel’s air force chief to Moscow to provide details.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that Russian experts will study the data to be provided by the Israeli air force chief. While the Russian leader took a cautious stance on the incident, he warned that Russia will respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria.”

Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Wednesday that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.

Business daily Kommersant reported that Russia also may respond to the downing of its plane by becoming more reluctant to engage Iran and its proxy Hezbollah militia, to help assuage Israeli worries.

Moscow has played a delicate diplomatic game of maintaining friendly ties with both Israel and Iran. In July, Moscow struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters 85 kilometers from the Golan Heights to accommodate Israeli security concerns. with Agencies.

Source: Daily Star Lebanon

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