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Syria rebel faction rejects Idlib deal

Jaysh al-Izza is formerly US-backed Syrian rebel group [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 September, 2018

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The Jaysh al-Izza faction rejected a deal which makes way for a demilitarised zone between rebel and regime-held areas in and around the northwestern governorate, Syria's last insurgent bastion.

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Syria, Idlib,

A formerly US-backed Syrian rebel group rejected a deal between Russia and Turkey to avert a large-scale military assault on rebel-held Idlib province, reports said on Saturday.

The Jaysh al-Izza faction rejected a deal reached on September 17 which makes way for a demilitarised zone between rebel and regime-held areas in and around the northwestern governorate, Syria's last insurgent bastion.

Under the accord jihadist factions would withdraw their heavy weaponry from the buffer zone.

Pro-Turkey rebels have cautiously accepted the deal, Jaysh al-Izza  said the zone to be set up by October 15 would only encompass territory currently under rebel control.

It said the buffer zone should be carved out equally from both rebel-held territory and nearby zones controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We are against this deal, which eats into liberated (rebel-held) areas and bails out Bashar al-Assad," Jaysh al-Izza head Jamil al-Saleh told AFP.

The group, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has around 2,500 fighters, is mainly active in the north of Hama province, bordering Idlib.

It had been close to Ankara but their ties cooled after it refused to join a Turkish-backed alliance, the National Liberation Front.

On September 23, the NLF accepted the demilitarisation deal but said it remained on guard.

A minor al-Qaeda-linked group, Hurras al-Deen, has also rejected the agreement reached in the Russian resort of Sochi.

The dominant force in the region bordering Turkey, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance led by jihadists of Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate, had on Saturday still not responded.

Earlier this month, Turkey said it was looking to expand its presence in Syria by setting up "secure zones" east of the Euphrates river.

The country has already established secure zones in the northern town of Afrin, where its troops seized military control from Kurdish YPG forces. Turkey has since set up local systems of governance in the swathe of land under its control and protected by Turkish forces.

The YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation, also controls the Syrian region east of the Euphrates.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the plans to “increase the number of secure zones in Syria, encompassing the east of the Euphrates," he said in a speech during a visit to New York, where world leaders have gathered for the UN General Assembly.

But Syria’s foreign minister denounced US, French and Turkish forces operating in his country as "occupying forces" and demanded that they leave immediately.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, who serves as well as Syria's deputy prime minister, also called on Syrian refugees to come home, even though the country's war is now in its eighth year.

Moualem said the foreign forces were on Syrian soil illegally, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and "will be dealt with accordingly."

"They must withdraw immediately and without any conditions," he told the assembly.

More than 360,000 people have died and millions displaced from their homes since the regime responded to anti-Assad protests in 2011 with brutal repression.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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