Syria’s main jihadist group would abide by the terms of a Russian-Turkish deal to prevent a Syrian government offensive on rebel-held Idlib a day before a critical deadline.
, a jihadist alliance spearheaded by al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front, said i adopted its stance after taking time for “consultation”.
It did not explicitly say it would abide by the deal, it said it would seek to provide security for people in the area it controls and it appreciates efforts to protect the area in an apparent reference to Turkey.
“We value the efforts of those striving – at home and abroad – to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it,” Tahrir al-Sham said in its statement.
“But we warn at the same time against trickery of the Russian occupier or having faith in its intentions,” it added. The group further said it “would not forget” foreign fighters who came to assist it.
Idlib’s other main rebel faction, a Turkish-aligned alliance of groups known as the National Liberation Front, also expressed support for the agreement.
The deal sets up a demilitarised zone running 15-20 km into rebel territory that must be evacuated of all heavy weapons and all jihadist groups by October 15.
Turkey has been working to persuade Tahrir al-Sham to comply with the agreement, which it arranged with the Syrian government’s main ally Russia to avert an assault it feared would send a new wave of refugees its way.
Tahrir al-Sham said in its statement, issued via social media channels, it would not end its jihad or hand over weapons.
Idlib and adjacent areas are the last stronghold of rebels who rose against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. It is also home to an estimated three million people, more than half of who have been displaced at least once during the war.
Last week Turkey said the demilitarised zone had been set up and Russian President Vladimir Putin said the zone was effective and no large scale military actions were planned in Idlib.
Russian and Turkish troops will patrol the zone at some stage, according to the agreement.