Syrian rebel forces deny withdrawal from Idlib buffer zone

Syria’s Failaq al-Sham rebel faction which operates in the country’s northwest, has denied reports of the withdrawal of rebel forces and heavy arms from the demilitarised zone in Idlib, agreed upon by Turkey and Russia last month, Reuters news reported.

The group was the first to start pulling out of the buffer zone in the Idlib region according to a Sept. 17, agreement to create a 15 to 20-kilometer demilitarised buffer zone between Syrian and rebel forces in Idlib, with Turkey and Russia conducting joint patrols in the area, according to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday.

Faylaq al-Sham, which has some 8,500 to 10,000 fighters who are part of a Turkish-backed alliance known as the National Liberation Front (NLF), has denied the claims.

“What was cited of our withdrawal from the demilitarized zone is a lie,” Reuters quoted Sheikh Omar Huziefa, a Failaq al-Sham leader as saying on Sunday.

“Nothing has happened on the fronts so far. Most of the heavy weapons are not at the front lines anyway,” another lead said.

The Ankara-Moscow deal for a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib arrived amid vows from Syrian President Bashar al Assad to take back from rebels ''every inch'' of the country, triggering concerns of a large humanitarian crisis in the region home to 1.5 million people.