Thousands return to their homes after Idlib deal
September 19 2018 06:46 PM
Newly displaced Syrian children arrive to a refugee camp in Atimah village, Idlib province, Syria
Newly displaced Syrian children arrive to a refugee camp in Atimah village, Idlib province, Syria September 11, 2018. Reuters

dpa/Beirut

Around 7,000 people from Syria's Hama and Idlib provinces have returned to their homes after an agreement by Turkey and Russia to set up a demilitarized zone in Idlib, a monitoring group said Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in the last 48 hours, around 7,000 displaced people have returned to their hometowns.
Most of them are from areas in the north and north-eastern countryside of Hama and the south and south-eastern countryside of Idlib, the group said.
According to Mustafa al-Hajj Youssef, the head of the White Helmets rescue organization in Idlib, convoys have been accompanying people to their homes since Tuesday, "especially to areas that have witnessed heavy airstrikes since early September."
The United Nations said two weeks ago that more than 30,000 people had been displaced from Idlib province this month as result of Syrian government and Russian airstrikes.
Idlib is home to 3 million civilians and is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist alliance led by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.
Russia and Turkey agreed this week to create a buffer zone by October 15 in a 15-20 square-kilometre area that will separate Syrian troops and rebels.
According to the deal, the rebels will hand over their heavy weapons under the supervision of Russia and Turkey by November 10. 
Russia has been the major benefactor of the Syrian government in the country's seven-year civil war, while Turkey has supported the rebels. 
However, several hardline groups have rejected the deal. Among them are Ansar al-Tawheed and Ansar al-Allah, according to the Observatory. Both are members of HTS and are considered the more radical groups within the alliance.
Hurras al-Deen, which broke away from the HTS alliance, has also rejected the deal. Hurras al-Deen has always objected to the growing Turkish influence in Idlib and Turkey's setting up of observation posts in the province.
These groups are mainly made up of Chechens, Tunisians, Palestinians and Jordanians. 
According to the watchdog, they have refused to withdraw from points on the front lines with Syrian government forces, which are located in Idlib's western area of Jisr al-Shoughour, the eastern countryside of Idlib and the northern countryside of Hama.
The agreement between Turkey and Russia comes after the Syrian government concentrated troops in the north-west, with the intent of unseating 10,000 extremist fighters from Idlib.



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