Turkish troop convoy enters Syria rebel zone as Idlib agreement deadline nears

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AFP PHOTO

A Turkish military convoy entered rebel-held northwestern Syria early on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported, as the deadline for establishing a buffer zone between rebel and government forces draws closer.

At least 40 vehicles, including trucks and armored personnel carriers, were seen moving slowly south along a main highway under the cover of darkness.

The troops they were carrying are expected to be deployed at “observation posts” Turkey has already set up in rebel-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the vehicles were heading to Turkish monitoring posts, including in the southwestern parts of Idlib.

There was no word from Turkey on any reinforcements to the area. It last sent a similar troop column into northern Syria just over a week ago.

Wednesday’s convoy entered as the deadline for implementing a Turkish-Russian accord on the future of Syria’s last major rebel bastion draws closer.

Last month, Moscow and Ankara agreed to set up a demilitarized zone ringing rebel territory to avert a threatened government offensive.

All factions in the zone must withdraw heavy weapons by Oct. 10, and radical groups must leave by Oct. 15. It will then be monitored by Turkish troops and Russian military police.

Meanwhile rebels in northern Syria who have rejected plans for joint Russian-Turkish patrols of a demilitarized zone said on Tuesday that Ankara had assured them no Russian forces would patrol the area, according to Reuters.

The planned presence of Russian forces in the neutral zone is one of several issues that anti-Assad factions say trouble them over the agreement, which also requires the withdrawal of insurgents deemed “radical” by Turkey from the area by Oct. 15.

The main jihadist group in the Idlib area, Tahrir al-Sham, has yet to say whether it will comply with the agreement.

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