BEIRUT: Jihadists in Syria’s Idlib failed to meet a Monday deadline to leave a planned buffer zone ringing the country’s last rebel bastion, casting fresh doubt over a deal to avert bloodshed.
A Russian-Turkish truce agreement reached nearly a month ago for the northwestern region gave “radical fighters” until October 15 to leave a proposed demilitarised area between government and opposition forces.
The accord was a last-ditch effort to stave off a regime onslaught on Idlib, the largest rebel stronghold left in war-ravaged Syria and home to around three million people.
But the target date for the withdrawal came and went without any hardliners leaving.
“We did not document the withdrawal of any jihadist fighters from the entire demilitarised zone,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, said on Monday morning.
Jihadists had until midnight Sunday to Monday to pull out, according to Abdel Rahman and two rebel commanders in Idlib.
Syria’s government said it would take “time” to judge if the deal had failed.
“We have to wait for the Russian reaction. Russia is monitoring and following the situation,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told reporters in Damascus.
He said he hoped Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would still be able to “fulfil the agreement from his part”.
Hours before the cut-off time, Idlib’s jihadist heavyweight Hayat Tahrir al-Sham vowed to continue fighting.
“We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution,” said HTS, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s one-time Syria branch.