Published: Wed, October 03, 2018
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Syria rebels deny pulling arms under Turkey-Russia deal

Syria rebels deny pulling arms under Turkey-Russia deal

Pro-Turkey rebels began Sunday withdrawing from areas in northern Syria under a deal brokered by Ankara and Moscow to avert a large-scale military assault on the country's last major opposition stronghold, a monitor said.

Earlier this month, Turkey, a backer of the opposition, and Russian Federation, which is the key backer of the Syrian government, agreed to establish a demilitarized zone at a depth between 15-20 km between the Syrian forces and the rebels in Idlib.

According to the deal, the rebels would withdraw from the demilitarized zone along with heavy weapons.

Idlib lies on the border with Turkey and is held by a complex array of rival rebel and jihadist factions, which observers expect will complicate the buffer zone's creation.

A spokesman for Faylaq al-Rahman also told AFP on Sunday it had not moved any forces or arms.

Faylaq Al Sham has some 8,500 to 10,000 fighters who are part of a Turkish-backed alliance known as the National Liberation Front (NLF).

The Turkish-backed Fallaq al-Sham has issued a statement ruling out any withdrawal from the Idlib Province areas meant to be covered by the deal brokered by Turkey, which was meant to prevent a Syrian offensive against them.

On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to set up a demilitarized zone about 15 to 20 kilometers wide skirting Idlib.

Most of the territory where the zone would be established is controlled by either hardline jihadists or by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by former Al-Qaeda members and widely considered the most powerful force in Idlib.

Also, sources close to the terrorists' commanders in Idlib have said that Tahrir al-Sham commander Mohammed al-Julani is due to declare his position on the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russian Federation on a demilitarized zone in Idlib soon.

Hurras al-Deen, a smaller Al-Qaeda-linked group, has rejected the agreement.

The group also said Turkey should ensure the Idlib deal does not end up like last year's de-escalation zones in central and southern Syria, where rebel-held areas were later simply taken over by government forces.

"We are against this deal, which eats into liberated [rebel-held] areas and bails out Bashar Assad", its head Jamil Al Saleh told AFP.

"The rebels have no choice at this point other than trusting the Turks to ensure Idlib's security".

The London-based observatory also reported clashes between militants and government forces in the coastal province of Latakia on Sunday.

The foreign ministers met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Russian news agency Tass said.

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