Jihadist factions including Syria’s former Al-Qaeda branch have pulled heavy weapons from parts of a planned buffer zone in the country’s northwest put forward under a Turkey-Russia deal, a monitor said Monday.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “and other less influential jihadist groups have withdrawn their heavy weapons from large areas of the demilitarised zone” ringing Idlib province, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
HTS has yet to comment on the reported withdrawal, which quietly began “two days ago”, according to Abdel Rahman.
“Until now, heavy weapons have been removed from northern Hama and eastern Idlib” located in the proposed zone, he said.
Last month’s agreement between regime ally Moscow and rebel-backer Turkey is to create a 15- to 20-kilometre (9-12 mile) demilitarised area ringing the Idlib region — the country’s last insurgent bastion.
Under the deal, all rebels in the buffer zone must withdraw heavy arms by Wednesday, and radical groups must leave the area by October 15.
The Idlib region includes most of the province of the same name, as well as adjacent parts of the Hama and Aleppo provinces.
On Monday, the National Liberation Front completed withdrawing heavy arms from the zone, according to Turkish state media.
The NLF pullout was confirmed to AFP by spokesman Naji Mustafa.
The NLF is the main Turkey-backed rebel alliance in the Idlib region, but jihadist heavyweight HTS and other hardliners hold a large part of the province and the proposed zone.
Led by former Al-Qaeda fighters, HTS has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.