October 16, 2018

Conflicting Reports Persist on Syrian Opposition Arms Withdrawal as Per Idlib Deal

03 October 2018, 12:48 | Silvia Roy

UPDATED: Trump chairs UN Security Council session, hits out at Iran, Russia

Sergei Bobylev  TASS News Agency Pool

Rebel groups deny reports they have withdrawn forces and arms two weeks after Turkey and Russian Federation agreed to create a demilitarized zone and remove heavy weapons from Idlib.

On Saturday, another rebel-group, Jaysh al-Ezzah, also expressed reservations toward the deal that averted a government offensive on Idlib province, the last major stronghold of the Syrian opposition.

The National Liberation Front (NLF), a pro-Turkey rebel coalition, welcomed the deal but said Sunday it had not yet removed any heavy arms from the planned zone.

Under the accord reached on September 17, rebel and opposition factions would withdraw their heavy weaponry from the buffer zone.

"A long meeting was held with our Turkish ally regarding the elements of the agreement, and chiefly the issue of Russia's presence in the buffer area", it quoted NLF spokesman Naji Mustafa as saying.

Idlib is the only large Syrian region, which still remains under control of illegal armed groups.

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Faylaq al-Rahman includes between 8,500 and 10,000 fighters and is one of the factions of NLF, which was established in August with the support of Ankara in Idlib province and neighboring areas that fall under the control of fighting factions in Aleppo, Hama and Lattakia, he explained.

Hurras al-Deen, a smaller al-Qaeda-linked group, has also rejected the agreement and on Saturday, US-backed Jaish al-Izza terrorist group followed suit, saying it rejected the Turkish deal with Russian Federation.

The fate of an agreement between Russia and Turkey to set up a demilitarized zone in Syria's Idlib hangs in balance with Turkish-backed militants refusing to withdraw and opposing the deployment of Russian troops.

The confusion has already played out on the ground, with the NLF and Faylaq al-Sham denying reports on Sunday that they had pulled heavy weapons from the planned zone.

But observers have pointed out its implementation would be tricky for Ankara.

Hayat Tahrir Al Sham has yet to announce its position on the agreement, and there have been no signs it was moving out either fighters or heavy weapons.

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The rest is held by the NLF and other rebels.

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

"We are against this deal, which eats into liberated (militant-held) areas and bails out Bashar al-Assad", its head Jamil al-Saleh told AFP.

Seven years of war have forced more than half of Syria's people into exile or left them internally displaced.

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

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