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Pullout of heavy weapons from Syria buffer zone to last days: rebels

Local | 2018-10-07 13:17:58
Pullout of heavy weapons from Syria buffer zone to last days: rebels
The withdrawal by rebels of their heavy weapons from a planned buffer zone in northwestern Syria is due to last several days, a Turkish-backed alliance of fighters said Sunday.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) announced Saturday that it has 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.

All rebels in the demilitarized zone must withdraw heavy arms by Wednesday, and radical groups must leave by Oct. 15, under the deal.

"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 NLF is the main Turkey-backed rebel alliance in the Idlib region, but militant heavyweight Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) holds most of the province and the zone.

HTS, led by former Al-Qaeda fighters, has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.

On Saturday, a media spokesman for Faylaq al-Sham, one of the NLF factions, confirmed the withdrawal of arms.

Seif Raad said it included pulling back missile launchers, tanks and mortars.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said the withdrawal of weapons had already started a week ago and would continue for several more days.

Weapons were pulled back in rebel-held areas in the north of Hama province on the border with Idlib and had also been shifted in Idlib province, the Britain-based group said.

Turkey has deployed troops in "observation posts" it set up in rebel-held areas of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province in recent weeks.

AFP
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