Ankara, Moscow say Idlib deal still on course despite missed deadline

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A Syrian rebel-fighter from the National Liberation Front (NLF) mans a position in the rebel-held al-Rashidin district of western Aleppo's countryside near Idlib province, on October 15, 2018. - Jihadists in Syria's Idlib failed to meet a deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country's last rebel bastion, casting fresh doubt over a deal to avert bloodshed. (Photo by Aaref WATAD / AFP)

Russia and Turkey said Tuesday their deal to set up a buffer zone for the last major Syrian rebel bastion of Idlib was still on course, despite jihadists missing a deadline to withdraw, AFP reported.

The agreement, reached by key powerbrokers Moscow and Ankara last month, gave “radical fighters” until Monday to leave a horseshoe-shaped area around Idlib intended to separate government from opposition forces.

But jihadists have held their ground, with a monitoring group saying Tuesday there were still “no signs” of an evacuation.

Neither Turkey nor Russia seemed fazed by the apparent breach of the plan aimed at averting an assault by Moscow-backed Syrian regime troops.

“The memorandum is being implemented and the military are satisfied with the way the Turkish side is working in this regard,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“Of course one cannot expect everything to go smoothly with absolutely no glitches, but the work is being carried out.”

Soon after, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the process of implementation was “ongoing.”

“There are no concerns about the withdrawal of heavy arms, and there don’t seem to be concerns about certain radical groups withdrawing from this region,” he said.

The deal provides for a 15-20 kilometer buffer zone semi-circling opposition-held areas in Idlib and the neighboring provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

It gave until Oct. 10 for the zone to be cleared of any heavy weapons, a deadline opposition backer Turkey, the Observatory and rebels said had been met.

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