Syria rebels deny pulling arms under Turkey-Russia deal

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A Syrian rebel alliance has not pulled any heavy arms from the country’s north, its spokesman told AFP Sunday, denying reports it had begun implementing a demilitarization deal there.

Moscow and Ankara reached a deal earlier this month to create a buffer zone around the opposition stronghold of Idlib that would be free of both extremists and heavy arms.

The National Liberation Front, a pro-Turkey rebel alliance, welcomed the deal, but said Sunday it had not yet moved any heavy arms from the planned zone.

“There have been no withdrawals of heavy weapons from any area or any front. This report is denied, completely denied,” NLF spokesman Naji Mustafa told AFP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor had earlier said one faction of the NLF began withdrawing its heavy weapons under a Turkish-Russian agreement to create a buffer zone in the area.

It said Faylaq al-Rahman, whose fighters number between 8,500 and 10,000, were leaving areas in the planned zone on Sunday “with heavy weapons, including tanks and cannons”.

A spokesman for Faylaq al-Rahman also told AFP on Sunday it had not moved any forces or arms.

“There have been no changes in the location of weapons or redistribution of fighters, even as we remain committed to the agreement reached in (the Russian resort of) Sochi,” said Sayf al-Raad.

On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to set up a demilitarized zone about 15 to 20 km wide ringing around Idlib.

All factions in the planned buffer zone must hand over their heavy weapons by October 10, and radical groups must withdraw by October 15, according to the agreement.

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