(Zaman Al Wasl)- For the seventh consecutive Friday, thousands of Syrians came out to the streets of rebel-held areas to rally against the regime and key ally Russia.
The demonstrations took place in the opposition areas in the provinces of Idlib, Latakia, provinces.
Demonstrators held up the three-star flag of the Syrian revolution and placards recalling the first days of the Syrian revolution in 2011, saying their goal is the toppling of the Assad regime and stopping Russian aggression.
They also condemned the acts of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group that controls the city of Idlib.
Idlib, the densely populated province, is the rebels' only remaining major stronghold in Syria.
Meanwhile, the regime's army has warned residents of Idlib to stay away from militants, who have yet to withdraw from a buffer zone ahead of a looming deadline.
Regime ally Moscow and rebel backer Ankara agreed last month to set up a demilitarized area around the northwestern region of Idlib to stave off a major regime offensive on a region that hosts some 3 million people.
The U-shaped zone aims to avert one of the worst humanitarian crises in Syria’s 7-year-old war.
But militants, who under the deal must withdraw from 15- to 20-kilometer-wide buffer zone by Monday, have not shown any sign of leaving.
Residents in the area received warning messages on their mobile phones from the Syrian army early Friday, an AFP correspondent said. “Get away from the fighters. Their fate is sealed and near,” one said.
“Don’t allow the terrorists to take you as human shields,” said another, addressed to residents of the planned buffer zone.
Idlib’s dominant force an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate and other militant factions control more than two-thirds of the planned zone.
But the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance has not yet officially responded to the deal, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that no militants had left the planned buffer area.
“There has been no withdrawal of any members of the jihadi factions with their light weapons,” the observatory said.
A rebel source inside the zone told AFP he had seen no HTS combatants leave.
“We have not observed any withdrawal of fighters,” he said.
Other militants in the planned buffer zone include the Turkestan Islamic Party and current Al-Qaeda outfit Hurras al-Deen.
Turkey-backed rebels and militants met an initial deadline Wednesday to remove their heavy weaponry from the buffer strip.
But it is not clear what will happen if the second and final Oct. 15 deadline is not met.
Four aid groups working in Idlib warned that failure to implement the deal could trigger renewed violence and mass displacement.
Nearly half of the people living in Idlib have fled there after being displaced from other parts of the war-ravaged country, according to the United Nations. Many already depend on aid.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have retaken large parts of Syria from opposition fighters and militants since Russia intervened in the war in September 2015.
After a series of victories near Damascus and in the south of the country earlier this year, a similar Moscow-backed assault had been expected against Idlib before the Russia-Turkey deal was announced.
Despite progress in implementing the accord, Assad insisted Sunday it was a “temporary measure” and that Idlib would eventually return to state control.
Separately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Friday that Turkey’s military could soon launch a new operation across the border into northern Syria, in zones held by Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Erdogan’s statement is renewing a threat to expand Turkey’s military operations into areas east of the Euphrates River held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia as terrorist and part of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
“God willing, very soon ... we will leave the terror nests east of the Euphrates in disarray,” Erdogan said at a military ceremony honoring Turkish commando soldiers.
Turkey launched incursion into Syria in 2016 and 2018, into areas west of the Euphrates, pushing Daesh (ISIS) militants as well as Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border area.
Zaman Al Wasl, AFP
Zaman Al Wasl