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Turkey-backed rebel group starts withdrawing from demilitarized zone in northern Syria

DAMASCUS, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) — A Turkey-backed rebel group started withdrawing heavy military gears from the planned demilitarized zone in northern Syria, a war monitor reported on Sunday.

Failaq al-Sham, a rebel group of around 10,000 fighters, started pulling out heavy military machines from areas in the southern countryside of Aleppo province in northern Syria and the western countryside of Aleppo, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The watchdog group said the initial withdrawal comes by the group to please the Turkish side, which along with the Russians, have agreed to establish a demilitarized zone as of Oct. 15 between the Syrian forces and the rebel groups.

The demilitarized zone is planned to be established in areas between Aleppo, the northeastern countryside of Latakia province and the northwestern province of Idlib.

The Observatory said only Failaq al-Sham, deemed as the third most powerful rebel group in northern Syria, took the initiative to start withdrawing from Aleppo countryside.

Meanwhile, the war monitor said that three rebel groups of 6,000 fighters have rejected the plan of creating a demilitarized zone in northern Syria.

The most powerful group of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is otherwise known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, has yet to give a stance about the demilitarized zone.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said that many of the rebel groups in Idlib, which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, do not dare to give an opinion about the Turkish-Russian deal as they are backed by Turkey.

Throughout the more than seven-year-long war, Idlib has emerged as the main destination and stronghold for the rebels fleeing other parts of Syria through deals or surrender.

The Syrian government estimates that up to 50,000 rebels are located in Idlib.

The al-Qaida-linked groups, including the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, also referred to as the Nusra Front, are the most powerful among other rebel factions in Idlib.

Due to the presence of many rebel groups with different affiliations in Idlib, the lawlessness has ramped up dramatically in recent months.

The Observatory said Thursday that 319 people, including civilians and rebel fighters, had been killed in the last five months as a result of the lawlessness.

Earlier in September, Turkey, a backer of the opposition, and Russia, which is the key backer of the Syrian government, agreed to establish a demilitarized zone at a depth between 15 km to 20 km between the Syrian forces and the rebels in Idlib.

The deal averted Idlib a wide-scale military offensive by the Syrian army, which expressed divisiveness in dealing with Idlib as it is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

According to the deal, the rebels would withdraw from the demilitarized zone along with heavy weapons.

The establishment of the demilitarized zone is set for Oct. 15.

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