No militants seen exiting Syria buffer on eve of deadline, mortars fired from zone

Regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey agreed last month to set up a demilitarised zone around the northwestern region of Idlib. (AFP/File)
Updated 14 October 2018

No militants seen exiting Syria buffer on eve of deadline, mortars fired from zone

  • Regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey agreed last month to set up a demilitarized zone
  • The deadline for withdrawing heavy weapons was met on time

BEIRUT: Hard-line fighters have yet to begin withdrawing from a planned buffer zone in northwestern Syria, a monitor and an AFP correspondent said Sunday on the eve of the pullout’s deadline.
Regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey agreed last month to set up a demilitarized zone around the northwestern region of Idlib to prevent a bloody regime assault on the region.
Under the deal the horseshoe-shaped area was to be free of heavy arms by October 10 with “radical fighters” pulling out by Monday.
While the deadline for withdrawing heavy weapons was met on time, there has been no indication that the second condition is being implemented.
“We have not monitored any withdrawals by jihadist fighters at all from areas falling in the planned buffer zone,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
An AFP correspondent in Idlib also said no hardline factions had moved any of their units in recent days.

Meanwhile rebels have also fired mortar shells from the area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said rebels in the planned zone fired several “mortar shells at an army position in nearby Hama province killing two soldiers.”

Idlib and surrounding rebel zones are held by a complex array of factions.
Less than half is controlled by the Ankara-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), the main rebel conglomerate there.
But the lion’s share is held by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by former Al-Qaeda members, as well as more hard-line jihadists like Hurras Al-Deen and Ansar Al-Islam.
Those fighters also control more than two-thirds of the planned buffer zone and are supposed to leave it by Monday.
Hurras Al-Deen has publicly rejected the agreement.
HTS, widely considered the most powerful force in the area, has not publicly commented on the accord but quietly abided by its first deadline and re-stationed its heavy arms elsewhere.
Observers have said that getting it to execute the deal’s second half would be much more challenging.
In a recent report for the Turkey-based Omran Center, expert Nawar Oliver described HTS’s approval as the deal’s ultimate “test.”
“If HTS acts as a spoiler to the agreement on the ground, this will probably lead to one of two scenarios: either Turkey and the NLF launch military action against HTS, or Russia will seize the opportunity with the support of the regime and its allies to enter Idlib,” he said.
“The ramifications of that move could be vast,” he added.


Saudi Arabia, UAE form joint panel to enforce Yemen cease-fire

Updated 43 min 36 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE form joint panel to enforce Yemen cease-fire

  • The panel will ensure all the ceasefire procedures are followed
  • Saudi Arabia and UAE will continue their support for the Arab coalition

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and the UAE have formed a joint panel to support the cease-fire between Yemen’s government and southern separatist forces in Shabwah and Abyan, Saudi state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

The panel will ensure the implementation of the cease-fire, Arab coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said.

The two states issued a joint statement by the foreign ministries, urging the sides to honor the cease-fire and return the civilian headquarters in Aden of the legitimate government.

The governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE confirmed they will continue their support, politically, militarily and through relief support to the Arab coalition in Yemen, the statement added.

The separatist forces of the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared last month they were breaking away from the UN-recognized legitimate government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, based in the southern city of Aden.

Their forces seized governmental structures and military camps in Aden, Shabwa and Abyan. Last week, they partially withdrew from strategic areas in Aden under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

STC still retain control of military sites in the province.