A deadline passed on Monday without fighters leaving a planned buffer zone around Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib as set out under a Russian-Turkish deal.
The armed groups were supposed to withdraw from the buffer as a final condition to implementing a Russian-Turkish agreement to stave off a Syrian government offensive on the northwestern region of Idlib.
The accord hung in the balance early Monday, seven years into a grinding civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Just hours before the deadline expired, rebels vowed to continue to fight.
“We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution,” said Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.
“We appreciate the efforts of all those who strive inside and abroad to protect the liberated area,” it said in an apparent reference to Turkey.
“But at the same time, we warn of the deceitfulness of the Russian occupier,” it said of President Bashar al-Assad’s ally.
Under the deal, heavy weapons were to have been withdrawn from the horseshoe-shaped buffer by October 10 and fighters to have left by Monday.[Source: AFP NEWS AGENCY]