MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia accused rebels in Syria’s Idlib Province on Thursday of trying to wreck a Russian-Turkish initiative to create a demilitarized zone in the insurgent-held region, the Interfax news agency reported.
Idlib is held by an array of rebel groups, the most powerful of which is Tahrir al-Sham. An amalgamation of Islamist groups, it is dominated by the former Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate until 2016.
“There are still Nusra militants in Idlib who are not stopping their attempts to wreck the implementation of the memorandum that was agreed between Russia and Turkey,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, was cited as saying.
Interfax quoted Zakharova as telling a news briefing in Moscow that the militants were continuing to shell Syrian government forces in the south of the province and to the northwest of Hama.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported regular exchanges of shelling since the September deal, which have caused a few deaths in both rebel- and opposition-held sides of the frontline. Shelling continued on Thursday.
The agreement forged in September between Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, staved off a major government offensive into the opposition-held region in northwestern Syria.
Turkey has said the deal is continuing according to plan and rejected accusations by Damascus that Turkey appeared unwilling to implement the deal.
The U.N. says around 3 million people live in rebel-held Idlib and adjacent areas and has warned that a battle to restore Assad’s control over the zone could be the worst of the seven-year-old war.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Lisa Barrington in Beirut, editing by Gareth Jones, Larry King