Rebels fire shells from Syria buffer despite heavy arms pullout
BEIRUT – Agence France-Presse
Opposition fighters have fired mortar shells from a planned buffer zone in northwest Syria, in a deadly attack that threatens a deal to protect the last major rebel bastion from a regime offensive.
But a monitor and AFP correspondent said on Oct.14 no hardliners had been seen leaving the region yet.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported “heavy mortar shells” were fired late Saturday from the planned buffer area into regime territory, killing two soldiers.
The deal agreed last month is only the latest in a string of truces throughout Syria’s seven-year war, which has killed more than 360,000 and displaced millions.It calls for setting up horseshoe-shaped buffer zone around the Idlib region that would be free of heavy arms by October 10 and of “radical fighters” by October 15.
Rebels and jihadists had reportedly met the first deadline, with Turkish officials, armed factions and the Britain-based Observatory reporting that the area was free of heavy-duty weaponry.
But the shells which hit on Oct. 13 an army position in Hama province appear to have violated the accord.
“This is the first clear violation of the deal since the heavy weapons were withdrawn. This area is supposed to be clear of heavy weapons, including mortar shells,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said intermittent regime shelling had been hitting the planned buffer for days, but the deal does not require government forces to withdraw any of their weapons.
Syrian pro-regime daily Al-Watan also reported rebel shelling, saying on Sunday that western parts of Aleppo province were being hit with “rocket fire and shelling with heavy weapons, which were supposed to be pulled out from the area.”