Huras al-Din armed group rejects demilitarisation deal for Syria's Idlib

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Group labelled 'radical' by Moscow rejects Turkish-Russian agreement and urges other fighters to launch new military operations

The most powerful group in the northwest, Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to declare its stance on the deal (AFP)
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Sunday 23 September 2018 21:35 UTC
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An armed group in the Idlib region of northwestern Syria, labelled as "radical" by Moscow, has rejected a Turkish-Russian demilitarisation deal and urged rebels to launch new military operations.

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

The deal agreed on Monday by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, requires "radical" armed groups to withdraw from a demilitarised zone by 15 October.

While the Huras al-Din faction is not the main militant armed 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 group in the northwest, Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has yet to declare its stance on the deal, the Reuters news agency reported.

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

Huras al-Din, which includes foreign fighters, was formed earlier this year by combatants who split from Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Nusra Front when it cut its ties with al-Qaeda.

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

'Treachery by the Russians'

On Saturday, Turkey-allied Syrian rebels said on Saturday they would cooperate with Turkey under the terms of the deal but they would not surrender their weapons or territory.

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

Our finger will remain on the trigger

- National Front for Liberation

The president said the zone, which will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces, will be 15 to 20km deep and run along the contact line between rebel and government fighters.

The National Front for Liberation, which groups a number of Free Syrian Army factions deemed moderate by Turkey, announced "our complete cooperation with the Turkish ally in making their effort succeed in sparing civilians the calamities of war".

In a statement, it added "we remain cautious and alert to any treachery by the Russians, the regime and the Iranians, especially after the issuance of statements by them that indicate this agreement is temporary".

"Our finger will remain on the trigger and we will not forgo our weapons or our land or our revolution," it said.

Turkey has said the "moderate opposition" would keep its weapons and remain in the areas it holds, and the "region will be cleared of radicals".

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