Syria rebels say shifting heavy arms from Idlib buffer zone

A deal between Turkey and Syria means “radical” rebels will be required to withdraw. (AP)
Updated 06 October 2018

Syria rebels say shifting heavy arms from Idlib buffer zone

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels said Saturday they have begun withdrawing heavy arms from a planned buffer zone in northwestern Idlib province, ahead of a deadline to set up the demilitarised area.
The Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) “has started pulling out its heavy weapons from the zone,” the rebel coalition’s spokesman Naji Mustafa told AFP.
The buffer zone, agreed last month between rebel backer Ankara and government ally Moscow, aims to separate regime fighters from the myriad insurgent and militant forces of the Idlib region.
The accord aims to stave off a massive regime assault on the last major rebel bastion by creating a 15 to 20-kilometer (nine to 12-mile) buffer zone ringing the area.
Under the deal all rebels in the demilitarised zone must withdraw heavy arms by October 10, and hard-line militant groups must leave by October 15.
NLF spokesman Mustafa said the rebel coalition was “maintaining its positions and headquarters with medium and light weapons” inside the buffer zone.
A representative for Faylaq Al-Sham, one of the groups making up the alliance, confirmed the withdrawal of arms including missile launchers and mortar cannons had begun.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had information that the weaponry was pulled out Friday evening and on previous days, but that the rebels did not publicize the move.
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.
HTS, led by former Al-Qaeda fighters, has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.
Fighting erupted on Friday between Ankara-backed rebels and the militant hard-liners near the planned demilitarization zone, a monitor said.
The Observatory war monitor said violence first flared between HTS and Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki rebels in the town of Kafr Halab.
HTS had reportedly been trying to arrest a local commander in the town on the western edge of Aleppo province, near the administrative border with Idlib.
“Zinki sent reinforcements to the area, and the clashes expanded to several areas and the National Liberation Front joined in,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
At least three civilians and six fighters were killed, the monitor said, before calm was restored after a truce deal between the factions.
Many of the details of the buffer zone agreement, including where exactly the area should fall, remain murky.
The NLF has refused any Russian presence in the buffer zone, which President Vladimir Putin said would be monitored by Russian military police and Turkish troops under the agreement.
Moscow has accused HTS and other “radical fighters” of trying to torpedo the accord.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said Thursday they “fear finding themselves isolated by the Russian-Turkey deal, and are committing all sorts of provocations and aggravating the situation.”
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 350,000 people and forced millions more out of their homes, and the UN has warned a full-blown regime attack on Idlib could bring unprecedented suffering.


Over 3 million virus cases reported in Mideast

Labourers, wearing protective face masks, disinfect the front of restaurant in Dubai's marina on March 16, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 31 October 2020

Over 3 million virus cases reported in Mideast

  • Labourers, wearing protective face masks, disinfect the front of restaurant in Dubai's marina on March 16, 2020

DUBAI: The number of reported coronavirus cases has gone over 3 million in the Middle East, an Associated Press count showed on Friday, with the true number likely even higher.
Across the Mideast, there have been over 75,000 deaths attributed to the virus by health authorities, the AP count relying on reported figures by individual countries shows.
There have been 2.5 million recoveries from the virus causing the COVID-19 illness.
In the Mideast, the hardest-hit nation remains Iran, which served as the initial epicenter of the virus in the region. In Iran alone, authorities say there have been over 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with some 477,000 recoveries and 34,000 deaths. Yet even those numbers are believed to be low, Iranian officials say.

NUMBER

Deaths have been reported in the Middle East region due to the coronavirus, according to health authorities.

In some war-torn nations, it remains difficult to know the scope of the pandemic as well. In Yemen for instance, it’s believed that the vast majority of the country’s cases have gone undiagnosed and untreated, and health workers have said only those who are near death are usually brought to hospitals.