Turkish-backed militants have rejected laying down their arms or surrendering the territory under their control in Syria’s Idlib Province after Russia and Turkey said they had agreed to set up a buffer zone in the region.
In a statement released late Saturday, the so-called National Liberation Front (NLF), an alliance of militant factions supported by Ankara, said it would cooperate with Turkey in Idlib, but ruled out disarming.
“We will not abandon our weapons, our land or our revolution” against Syrian government forces, the group said.
Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and announced an agreement on Idlib which is the last major terrorist-held bastion in Syria.
Following the meeting, Putin told a joint news conference with Erdogan that they had agreed to create a demilitarized zone of 15-20 kilometers in Idlib along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops by October 15.
The agreement involved the withdrawal of “radically-minded” militants, including the al-Nusra Front, from the region, he added.
Erdogan said both Turkey and Russia would carry out coordinated military patrols on the borders of the buffer zone in a bid to detect and prevent “provocation by third parties and violations of the agreement.”
The deal was hammered out after lengthy talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Moscow and Ankara had agreed on borders of the demilitarized zonearound Idlib.
The Huras al-Din militant group which includes foreign elements rejected the Idlib buffer zone deal, however.
The terror outfit also advised its members “in this decisive and dangerous phase … (to) begin military operations against the enemies … to thwart their plans.”
Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful Takfiri terrorist group in Idlib, has not declared its stance on the Idlib agreement yet.
Idlib hosts several foreign-sponsored militant groups and separating what Turkey describes as moderates from extremists is almost impossible.
In recent weeks, the Syrian army has been preparing for the liberation of Idlib, drawing support from Iran and Russia, but concerns from Turkey which says it would unleash a fresh influx of Syrian refugees.