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Militant group rejects Russia-Turkey deal for Syria's Idlib

Main faction, Tahrir Al Sham, is yet to declare stance

By Reuters - Sep 24,2018 - Last updated at Sep 24,2018

Fighters from the Nureddine Al Zinki unit, a moderate Syrian opposition faction affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and made up of former Free Syrian Army fighters, rest in a position in a rebel-held part of Aleppo province that lies directly east of the main opposition bastion in Idlib (AFP photo)

BEIRUT — An extremist faction in the Idlib region of northwestern Syria has rejected a Turkish-Russian deal that requires "radical" insurgents to withdraw from a demilitarised zone, and urged rebels to launch new military operations.

While the Huras Al Din faction is not the main Islamist militant group in Idlib, its statement points to objections that may complicate the implementation of the agreement clinched last week by Russia and Turkey.

The most powerful extremist group in the northwest, Tahrir Al Sham, has yet to declare its stance on the deal, under which insurgents must vacate the demilitarised zone by October 15.

Tahrir Al Sham is a coalition of Islamist groups dominated by the faction formerly known as the Nusra Front, which was an official wing of the Al Qaeda network until 2016. Tahrir Al Sham's position will be critical.

An alliance of Turkey-allied rebel groups, the National Front for Liberation, has declared its "complete cooperation" with the Turkish effort, but has also ruled out disarming or yielding territory.

The Huras Al Din group was formed earlier this year by combatants who split from Tahrir Al Sham and the Nusra Front when it cut its ties with Al Qaeda. It includes foreign militants.

The group declared the agreement part of a plan "to eliminate the extremist project" in the Levant.

"We advise our mujahideen brothers in this decisive and dangerous phase ... [to] begin military operations against the enemies of religion to thwart their plans," it said in a statement released on Saturday.

The demilitarised zone agreed by Turkey and Russia will be 15 to 20km deep and run along the contact line between rebel and government fighters. 

It will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that all opposition heavy weapons, mortars, tanks and rocket systems are to be removed from the zone by October 10.

Close to 3 million people live in Idlib, around half of them Syrians displaced by the war from other parts of Syria, and the United Nations has warned that an offensive would cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

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