Ex­trem­ist rebels in Syria with­draw heavy arms in Idlib

The Miracle - - Middle East - Source: arab­news.com

BEIRUT: Ex­trem­ist fac­tions in­clud­ing Syria’s for­mer Al-Qaeda branch have with­drawn heavy weapons from parts of a planned buf­fer zone in Idlib prov­ince, a mon­i­tor said on Mon­day, two days ahead of a dead­line.Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham “and other less in­flu­en­tial ji­hadist groups have with­drawn their heavy weapons from large ar­eas of the de­mil­i­tarised zone” ring­ing Idlib prov­ince, said Rami Ab­del Rah­man of the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights. The de­vel­op­ment comes ahead of Wed­nes­day’s cut-off date for all rebels to with­draw heavy arms from a 15 to 20-kilome­ter de­mil­i­tarised area ring­ing the Idlib re­gion. The creation of a buf­fer zone is cen­tral to an agree­ment reached last month by regime ally Rus­sia and rebel backer Tur­key, which is aimed at staving off a mas­sive as­sault on Idlib by Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s forces.The deal also fore­sees rad­i­cal groups leav­ing the area by Oct.15. HTS, which is led by for­mer Al-Qaeda fighters, has yet to com­ment on its re­ported with­drawal or an­nounce its stance on the buf­fer zone deal. Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tain-based Ob­ser­va­tory, the pull­out qui­etly be­gan two days ago.“Un­til now, heavy weapons have been re­moved from northern Hama and east­ern Idlib” lo­cated in the pro­posed zone, Ab­del Rah­man said. The Idlib re­gion in­cludes most of the prov­ince of the same name, as well as ad­ja­cent parts of the Hama and Aleppo prov­inces.In re­cent weeks, Tur­key has de­ployed troops at “ob­ser­va­tion posts” it set up in rebel-held ar­eas of Idlib and neigh­bor­ing Aleppo. A lo­cal source close to HTS said Ankara’s ac­tions demon­strated that nei­ther Tur­key, Rus­sia, nor fel­low regime ally Iran plan to break the deal. “The pres­ence of Turk­ish forces and their posts will pre­vent any mil­i­tary ac­tion,” the source said. “So (HTS), like other fac­tions, is mov­ing heavy weapons and re­in­forc­ing its po­si­tions ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment.” The source con­firmed each fac­tion “will re­main in its po­si­tion”, in­di­cat­ing that HTS and the other groups were “ready and pre­pared” to rebel any at­tack by the regime. HTS and other hard­lin­ers hold a large part of Idlib prov­ince and the pro­posed de­mil­i­tarised zone, while the Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front is the main Tur­key-backed rebel al­liance in the area.On Mon­day, the NLF com­pleted with­draw­ing heavy arms from the zone, ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish state me­dia. The start of the NLF pull­out was con­firmed to AFP by its spokesman Naji Mustafa. De­spite progress in im­ple­ment­ing the terms of the deal, As­sad on Sun­day said the ar­range­ment would not be­come per­ma­nent. “The agree­ment is a tem­po­rary mea­sure through which the state has re­alised many achieve­ments on the ground start­ing with stem­ming the blood­shed,” he was quoted as say­ing by state news agency SANA. “This prov­ince and other Syr­ian ter­ri­tory still un­der ter­ror­ist con­trol will re­turn to the Syr­ian state,” the pres­i­dent said, re­fer­ring to both rebels and jihadists.

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