A pro-opposition monitoring group says Turkey-backed militants have not withdrawn their heavy weapons from the buffer zone in northern Syria as they claim and are instead hiding their arms in the north of Latakia.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has not detected any signs of militant groups moving out from the demilitarized region according to a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey. It said that 70% of the area is still under the control of the militants.

Under a deal reached between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi on September 17, all militants in the demilitarized zone, which surrounds Idlib and also parts of the adjacent provinces of Aleppo and Hama, must pull out their heavy arms by Wednesday, and Takfiri groups must withdraw by October 15.

The agreement has so far held off a government offensive on Idlib, the last major terrorist stronghold in Syria.

The UK-based group said the militants were digging tunnels to hide their heavy weapons inside the zone in the northern countryside of Latakia.

According to the report, Ahrar al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham and the Coastal Regiments 1 and 2, formed with Turkish backing in May, have not retreated from the Latakia countryside and have only hid their arms in tunnels.

Naci Mustafa, a spokesman for the so-called National Front for the Liberation of Syria which is backed by Turkey, claimed on Saturday that the militants had begun removing heavy weapons from the frontlines in a bid for a 15- to 20-kilometer demilitarized zone to be set up.

Turkish-backed militants have begun withdrawing heavy arms from a buffer zone located in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

 

The observatory said the militants had not withdrawn from the buffer zone and were even reinforcing their positions in the region, especially in northern Latakia.

The NLF is the main Turkish-backed militant alliance in the Idlib region, but the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group holds a large part of the province and the zone.

HTS is a coalition of different factions of terror outfits, largely composed of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

The group, which is said to be in control of some 60 percent of Idlib province, has yet to announce its stance on the buffer zone deal.

It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 members of terrorist groups are active in the volatile province, which is reportedly home to around three million inhabitants.

Russia believes that a buffer zone would help stop attacks from Idlib-based militants on Syrian army positions and Russia’s military bases in the flashpoint region.

Syria has been gripped by a foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.

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