WASHINGTON - A powerful Islamist militant group should be included in a Russian-Turkish deal to sustain a cease-fire and prevent a new humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria, said an international conflict prevention group.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in report, released Friday, that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Russia and Turkey, is too entrenched to be defeated militarily without killing a large number of civilians in the restive Syrian province of Idlib.
“All actors should seek a more sustainable cease-fire -- optimally including HTS, notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the group – that avoids the high military, political and humanitarian price of another offensive,” the report said.
HTS is a former al-Qaida branch in Syria. It was previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
With about 20,000 fighting members, it is considered the most dominant militant group in Idlib, a last major rebel stronghold for Syrian rebels. The U.N. says nearly 2.6 million civilians live in the enclave. Rights groups have accused HTS of committing war crimes in Syria’s conflict.
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