U.S. special representative for Syria James Jeffrey said Wednesday some militants have pulled out of the demilitarized zone in Idlib after a Monday deadline that was imposed by Russia and Turkey.
"There is some question as to whether everybody from HTS (the militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) has left," Jeffrey told reporters Wednesday. "But there has been some withdrawal of the terrorists from that zone," he said.
Jeffrey said there were "some questions as to whether everybody" from HTS had left the area, a potential point of contention as the deal required that Turkey would allow the militants to safely vacate the buffer zone, a process he said the Russians "seem to be willing to continue."
HTS is the most powerful jihadist operation in Idlib and is part of an alliance led by al-Qaida’s one-time Syria branch.
In addition to the withdrawal of some militants, all heavy weapons have been removed from the area, Jeffrey said.
"This is a major step because what it’s done is it has frozen the conflict not only there, but the conflict is also frozen essentially everywhere else."
A potential obstacle to vacating the area is internal disagreement within HTS over the agreement.
U.S. and Turkish officials are engaged in talks about how to "revitalize the political process," now that there is "at least [a] temporary cease-fire throughout the country," Jeffrey said. He added he expected U.N. special representative to Syria Staffan de Mistura to form a committee on Syria’s constitution "in the weeks ahead."
Russia and Turkey reached an agreement to establish a buffer zone 15-20 kilometers into rebel territory and to have all jihadists and heavy weapons removed by Monday.
Idlib and surrounding areas are the last rebel strongholds that revolted against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. More than half of the 3 million people who live in the area have been displaced at least once during the war.
Source: VOA news