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2 militant groups reject demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib

September 23, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Two insurgent groups rejected a deal reached this month between Russia and Turkey to establish a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region with one saying Sunday that the agreement aims to “bury the revolution.”

The rejection by some jihadi groups of the Russia-Turkey deal highlights the problems that the agreement may face in the coming weeks, as the demilitarized zone is scheduled to be established by mid-October.

It also underscores the divisions between insurgent factions as some groups backed by Turkey, such as the National Front for Liberation, have welcomed the move that averted a wide government offensive on Idlib.

Horas al-Din, Arabic for Guardians of Religion, called the deal to establish the zone that will be 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) deep, with troops from Russia and NATO-member Turkey conducting coordinated patrols, a “great conspiracy.”

The group is made up mostly of al-Qaida fighters that broke away from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, the largest militant group in Idlib province.

Horas al-Din urged in their late Saturday statement supporters from around the world to come to Syria “to help people of the Levant.”

Another jihadi group, Ansar al-Din Front, issued a statement Sunday carried by Syrian opposition social media pages calling on all insurgent groups in Idlib “during this critical period to overcome their differences because of the existential battle since our enemy does not differentiate between us.”

The al-Qaida-linked HTS has not yet said whether it has accepted the deal, but some of its prominent foreign commanders such as Abu Yaqzan al-Masri, from Egypt, have previously said insurgents should not hand over their weapons and continue fighting the Russians and Syrian government forces.

Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

On Friday, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said that the borders of the demilitarized zone were determined with their Russian counterparts.

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