https://diyaruna.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_di/features/2018/10/11/feature-02

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Security |

Idlib activist says buffer zone has not brought security

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Armed factions in Syria's Idlib province withdraw from the newly established buffer zone. [Photo courtesy of Haisam al-Idlibi]

Although the agreement to establish a buffer zone has entered into force, civilians in Syria's Idlib province do not feel secure, a local activist told Diyaruna.

The zone has separated opposition factions from the Syrian regime and its allies, but local residents said the situation in the Idlib interior has not changed, in terms of the presence of extremist groups and infighting among the factions.

The deal, agreed last month, provides for the establishment of a U-shaped buffer zone around Idlib, patrolled by Turkish troops and Russian military police, that would be free of both extremists and heavy weapons, AFP reported.

The accord called for a complete withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the planned buffer by Wednesday (October 10th), and opposition and extremist groups appeared to have met that deadline.

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New recruits to Tahrir al-Sham attend a graduation ceremony in rural Idlib from a course that concluded this week, after the agreement to create a buffer zone went into force. [Photo courtesy of Haisam al-Idlibi]

But observers say a thornier task lies ahead.

Under the accord, the zone must be free by October 15th of all extremists, including those of Tahrir al-Sham, which has not officially responded to the deal.

But the extremist alliance and other extremist groups remain inside the planned buffer area and show no sign of leaving.

Potentially explosive situation

Despite the establishment of the buffer zone, civilians who reside in Idlib province and along the edges of Aleppo and Hama provinces do not feel secure, Idlib activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.

In their view, he said, the situation could explode at any moment.

This is largely due to the presence of extremist groups such as Tahrir al-Sham, al-Qaeda affiliated Hurras al-Din, the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), he said.

The presence of extremist groups concerns residents of the region, he explained, because these groups have not handed over any of their weapons.

All that transpired with the creation of the buffer zone was that they abandoned some positions along the periphery of the area they control and moved to positions in the interior, he said.

According to al-Idlibi, who has conducted field trips in the area, local residents believe their continued presence means the war has merely been postponed.

Infighting and assassinations

Another issue that concerns local residents, al-Idlibi said, is the infighting among the various armed factions and the frequent instances of kidnapping that occur.

Tension is still extremely high in the Idlib interior between Tahrir al-Sham, an extremist alliance, and the National Liberation Front, which comprises a large number of armed factions.

Assassinations are a regular occurrence, with a Wednesday attempt on the life of Jaysh al-Ahrar commander Hakam Abu Mounir among the most recent incidents, al-Idlibi said.

Abu Mounir was injured when an explosive device that had been planted inside his car in the Tal al-Ruman neighbourhood of Saraqeb detonated.

According to al-Idlibi, the local population's greatest concern is that Tahrir al-Sham will exploit the buffer zone agreement to consolidate its control.

There are signs that this could happen, he said, pointing out that the extremist alliance has continued to detain its opponents on a daily basis.

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