Militants pull heavy weapons from Syria buffer zone

A source close to the jihadist alliance which controls most of Syria's last major rebel bastion Idlib said the presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians had put it under irresistible pressure to fall in line with a September truce deal

Idlib demilitarized zone is free of heavy weapons: Turkish MoD

Russian Federation claimed that 1,000 fighters left the area in a sign the deal to halt the planned offensive on Idlib was holding, although HTS militants are still reportedly in the buffer zone region.

As Haaretz writes in an article "Assad: Russia-Turkey Deal to Demilitarize Idlib "Temporary", his comments were made during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party.

The deal also foresees rebel groups leaving the area by 15 October.

The Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) rebel alliance said it had pulled out all heavy arms by Monday, and the Observatory said jihadists quietly followed suit.

Asked about Turkish reports that all heavy weapons had been removed, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that around 100 heavy weapon units had been withdrawn from the zone, but gave no further details.

According to the deal, the zone would separate rebel and regime zones under the supervision of the two sponsor countries.

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Idlib is the sole large region in Syria, which remains under the control of illegal armed formations.

"HTS is playing the long game in Idlib", said Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security.

In recent weeks, Turkey has dispatched convoys of troops to monitoring posts in the region and its soldiers are expected to patrol any future buffer zone.

A series of offensives earlier this year saw a succession of longtime militant strongholds surrender and a similar Russia-back assault had been expected in Idlib before the truce deal was announced last month.

"The Russians want to "freeze" the war in the west of Syria, and addressing the reconstruction of the areas under the control of Assad", he said.

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 360,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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