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Syria rebels say to remove heavy weapons from buffer zone within days

AFP  |  Al-Eis 

Turkish-backed rebels said Sunday they expected to finish withdrawing heavy weapons from a planned buffer zone in northwestern within days under a deal to stave off a regime attack.

The (NLF) announced Saturday that it has begun withdrawing heavy from the zone as part of an agreement between Syrian regime ally and rebel backer

The accord, reached on September 17, aims to stave off a massive regime assault on province, the last major rebel bastion in Syria, by creating a 15 to 20-kilometre (9-12 mile) buffer zone ringing the area.

Under the deal, all rebels in the demilitarised zone, which surrounds and also parts of the adjacent provinces of and Hama, must withdraw heavy by Wednesday, and radical groups must leave by October 15.

"We began to withdraw our heavy weapons from the demilitarised zone to rear positions," NLF told AFP.

"The operation will last several days," he said, adding that the weapons will be held by fighters deployed in positions outside the demilitarised zone.

The NLF is the main Turkey-backed rebel alliance in the region, but jihadist heavyweight (HTS) holds a large part of the province and the zone.

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

On Sunday, an saw NLF fighters on the frontline inside the planned buffer zone on the Idlib region's eastern flank.

They waited in trenches armed with light weapons on a hill in the area of Al-Eis in the southwest of province, overlooking regime-held territory several kilometres (miles) away.

The did not see any heavy weapons in Al-Eis.

"According to the set deadline, the withdrawal of heavy weapons will end on October 10. The operation is ongoing," an NLF on site told AFP.

"We are reinforcing our positions and are ready to face any violation" from the regime side, he added.

In recent weeks, has deployed troops at "observation posts" it set up in rebel-held areas of Idlib and neighbouring

Nawar Oliver, an from the Turkey-based for Strategic Studies, said pro-fighters giving up their heavy weapons on the front line leaves them vulnerable to a regime attack.

But "the should have some kind of heavy artillery" with them, he said.

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

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

The for Human Rights war monitor said the withdrawal of weapons had already started a week ago and would continue for several more days.

"But the rebels only hold a third of the buffer zone," the of the Britain-based monitor, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

HTS and other jihadists, who control around 70 percent of the planned demilitarised area, pose the main challenge to its implementation, he said.

None have accepted the Russia-deal, yet they are expected to withdraw from the zone by October 15.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, October 07 2018. 19:45 IST