Russia blames rebels in Idlib for delay of establishing buffer zones

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday said the efforts to create a demilitarised zone in Syria's Idlib according to a Russian Turkish deal made in September were delayed due to rebels' aggression.

According to the deal agreed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas in which they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing renewed fighting. 

The deal effectively prevented a potential assault by Syrian government in Idlib, the country’s last major rebel-held enclave.

Idlib is controlled by an array of jihadists and home to about three million people. The most powerful group is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra Front - an al Qaeda affiliate until 2016.

"Despite practical success in forming a demilitarised line along the borders of this zone stipulated by the memorandum, it is too early to speak about the end of the necessary work. Nusra and its allies stage daily provocations, such as the shelling of residential areas in western Aleppo," Zakharova said in her weekly press conference.

Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham militants and their allies have been carrying out daily attacks in the Idlib buffer zone, prompting the Syrian Army to respond with their own assault, SANA quoted Zakharova as saying.

"About 200 such incidents were recorded in October," she said.

The Syrian Army killed 22 militants on Nov. 8 near Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday. This is the highest death toll in the demilitarised zone since it was announced.