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The Latest: Irani UN ambassador says Idlib deal ‘right step’

September 18, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, welcomes Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prior to their talks at the Bocharovy Ruchei residence, in Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. The leaders of Russia and Turkey agreed Monday to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria's Idlib region. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on development in Syria(all times local):

11:10 p.m.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador is calling the Russia-Turkey agreement on the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib the “right step” toward fighting terrorism and restoring peace to Syria without hurting civilians.

Gholamali Khoshroo told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the agreement “is in line with the determination expressed by the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Tehran to continue cooperation to eliminate all terrorists while taking into consideration its humanitarian aspects.”

Iran, Russia and Syria are the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria.

James Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria, told the council “there will not be stability in Syria as long as Iran and its proxy forces remain,” saying they must leave and cannot dictate Syria’s future.

Khoshroo stressed that the U.S. allegations are “intended to cover up the failures of U.S. policies in Syria.”

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10:45 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian chief is welcoming the Russia-Turkey agreement on the last rebel-held stronghold in Idlib, saying if fully implemented it may avert “the catastrophe” of a military onslaught creating “the worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century.”

But Mark Lowcock told the the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that “to succeed, demilitarization requires the agreement of all parties.”

Without that, he warned, “it is foreseeable that force will be used to demilitarize and thus civilians exposed to the very harm we are trying to avoid.”

Lowcock said that any screening to distinguish civilians from fighters should be undertaken in accordance with international law and with “humane treatment.” And he said civilians must be allowed to leave the demilitarized area if they choose and must receive adequate shelter, food and medical care.

Lowcock says the 3 million civilians in Idlib have a simple question: “Is this merely a stay of execution? Or is it the beginning of a reprieve, the first tiny glint of light at the very end of the darkest tunnel?”

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7:55 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says a major military offensive in the last major rebel-held area in Idlib has been averted by an agreement between the leaders of Russia and Turkey “and that is very good news.”

Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the U.N. hopes the agreement is “expeditiously implemented” with full respect for international humanitarian law and “continued preference for dialogue over escalation.”

With the de-escalation in Idlib, he said, “there is no reason not to move forward expeditiously with the political process.”

De Mistura said there is agreement on 50-member delegations from the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition for a committee to draft a new constitution — but not on the 50-member delegation the U.N. put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

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5 p.m.

Turkey’s top diplomat says an agreement reached with Russia over the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib ensures the continuity of Syria’s moderate opposition.

Speaking on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the agreement reached a day earlier would allow civilians and anti-government rebels, backed by Turkey, to remain in a demilitarized zone and “retain light arms.”

The minister said the demilitarized zone, to be established by Oct. 15 and be 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep, would be cleared of “radicals” and heavy weapons, such as tanks and rocket launchers.

Without the agreement, “there would have been no opposition left,” calling it crucial for a lasting political solution.

Cavusoglu also said Turkey would need to dispatch more troops to patrol the area, along with Russia, while also retaining its 12 observation posts.

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3:50 p.m.

Syria’s opposition says it is better off in the wake of a Turkey-Russia deal on a demilitarized zone around Idlib province compared to periods following the defeat of rebels in other parts of the country.

Opposition figures said Tuesday the deal will spare Idlib a government offensive, while a pro-government newspaper said state institutions will return to Idlib before the end of 2018.

The government has vowed to eventually regain control of all Syrian territories.

After weeks of massing troops around Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria, the leaders of Russia and Turkey agreed on Monday to establish a demilitarized zone around the province.

The move spared the province that is home to some 3 million people and 60,000 insurgents a fate similar to other areas captured by troops earlier this year.

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