BEIRUT: A day after jihadists missed a deadline under a demilitarisation deal for Syria’s Idlib, key powerbroker Russia said the deal was still going ahead, reports AFP.
The agreement, reached by rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Moscow, gave “radical fighters” until Monday to leave a horseshoe-shaped buffer around the last major opposition stronghold in the war-ravaged country.But they have held their ground, and jihadist heavyweight Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) pledged to continue fighting—despite not taking an explicit position on the deal.
By Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the deadline, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said there were “no signs” of an HTS evacuation.
Under the deal, the jihadists’ departure would pave the way for patrols of the zone by its Russian and Turkey sponsors.
“We did not monitor on Tuesday any withdrawal or patrols in the buffer area,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Kremlin however said Tuesday the deal was being implemented despite some setbacks.
“The memorandum is being implemented and the military are satisfied with the way the Turkish side is working in this regard,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists at a regular briefing.“Of course one cannot expect everything to go smoothly with absolutely no glitches, but the work is being carried out.”
There was no reaction from Ankara, which observers said was a sign of a de facto grace period to allow the deal to be fully implemented.
Clearing the buffer of HTS and more extreme jihadists—including Hurras al-Deen and Ansar al-Islam—was seen as the real test of the September 17 accord.
The deal provides for a 15-20 kilometre buffer zone semi-circling opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighbouring provinces of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo. It gave until October 10 for the zone to be cleared of any heavy weapons, a deadline Turkey, the Observatory, and rebels said had been met.
HTS and other hardliners, which together hold over two-thirds of the planned buffer, also appeared to have quietly met the first target date and pulled heavy arms out of the zone.