|Date: Oct 8, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Syrian rebels to complete Idlib withdrawal: Anadolu|
ISTANBUL: Syrian rebel groups will complete the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from a demilitarised zone agreed by Turkey and Russia in northwest Syria's Idlib Monday, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said.
Under a deal agreed last month between Turkey and Syrian President Bashar Assad's main ally Moscow, rebels deemed as radicals are required to withdraw by the middle of this month from the zone, and heavy weaponry must be withdrawn by Oct. 10.
The Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) rebel alliance said on Saturday that the process of withdrawing heavy weapons had begun.
Turkish Broadcaster NTV said on Monday a large proportion of the mortars, artillery and missile ramps in the area had already been withdrawn.
Other Syrian rebels are due to remain within the demilitarised zone to assist Turkish troops monitoring and patrolling the area, the NFL has said.
The Turkey-Russia agreement halted a threatened Syrian government offensive. The United Nations had warned such an attack would create a humanitarian catastrophe in the Idlib region, home to about three million people.
The main militant group in the Idlib area, Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to say whether it will comply with the agreement.
Syria rebels withdraw arms from buffer zone
AL-ISS, Syria / OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Turkish-backed rebels said Sunday that they expected to finish withdrawing heavy weapons from a planned buffer zone in northwestern Syria within days under a deal to stave off a regime attack. The National Liberation Front announced Saturday that it had begun withdrawing heavy arms from the zone as part of an agreement between Syrian regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
The accord, reached on Sept. 17, aims to stave off a massive regime assault on Idlib province, the last major rebel bastion in Syria, by creating a 15- to 20-kilometer buffer zone ringing the area.
Under the deal, all rebels in the demilitarized zone, which surrounds Idlib and also parts of the adjacent provinces of Aleppo and Hama, must withdraw heavy arms by Wednesday, and radical groups must leave by Oct. 15.
“We began to withdraw our heavy weapons from the demilitarized zone to rear positions,” NLF spokesman Naji Mustafa told AFP.
“The operation will last several days,” he said, adding that the weapons will be held by fighters deployed in positions outside the demilitarized zone.
The 15-member National Liberation Front is the main Turkey-backed rebel alliance in the Idlib region, but militant heavyweight Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham holds a large part of the province and the zone.
HTS, led by former Al-Qaeda militants, has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.
“According to the set deadline, the withdrawal of heavy weapons will end on Oct. 10. The operation is ongoing,” an NLF commander on site told AFP.
“We are reinforcing our positions and are ready to face any violation” from the regime side, he added.
Nawar Oliver, an analyst from the Turkey-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said pro-Ankara fighters giving up their heavy weapons on the front line leaves them vulnerable to a regime attack.But “the Turkish military should have some kind of heavy artillery” with them, he said.
A media spokesman for Failaq al-Sham, one of the NLF factions, confirmed Saturday the withdrawal of arms. Seif Raad said it included pulling back missile launchers, tanks and mortars.
None have accepted the Russia-Turkey deal, yet they are expected to withdraw from the zone by Oct. 15.