Idlib demilitarized zone is free of heavy weapons: Turkish MoD

A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter drinks a coffee near the city of al-Bab in the Aleppo province on the border with Turkey

A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter drinks a coffee near the city of al-Bab in the Aleppo province on the border with Turkey

The military factions in Idlib governorate have completed the withdrawal of heavy arsenal from the demilitarized zone, agreed upon under the "Sochi" deal, signed by Turkey and Russian Federation.

HTS and smaller militant factions quietly began withdrawing theirs on Saturday in an operation that continued through Monday night, the Observatory said.

Last month, following a meeting in Sochi between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the two countries agreed to establish the Idlib demilitarized zone.

Under the deal, all rebels in the buffer zone must withdraw heavy arms by Wednesday, and radical groups must leave the area by October 15.

"The demilitarized area agreed upon between Russian Federation and Turkey is nearly empty of heavy weapons", the Observatory said.

The young dust-covered rebel looked out warily from a dirt trench facing opposing regime forces as his unit pulled heavy weapons from a planned buffer zone in northern Syria.

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Under the deal, the zone must be free by October 15 of all extremists, including those of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the region's dominant force led by former Al-Qaeda fighters.

"So (HTS), like other factions, is moving heavy weapons and reinforcing its positions according to the agreement". The NLF is the main Turkey-backed rebel alliance in the Idlib region, but jihadist heavyweight HTS and other hardliners hold a large part of the province and the proposed zone.

Naji al-Mustafa, spokesman of the "National Front for Liberation", said that the weaponry removal operation has been finalized yesterday, for it has been taken to rear line headquarters and was spread in the posts of the "National Front".

Despite progress in implementing the terms of the deal, Assad on Sunday said the arrangement would not become permanent.

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

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