US does not want to harm friends, allies with Iran sanctions, says Bolton

MOSCOW: Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused Nusra militants in Syria’s Idlib Province of trying to wreck a Russo-Turkish initiative to create a demilitarized zone in the insurgent-held region, the Interfax news agency reported.

“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 spokesman for the ministry, was cited as saying.

Interfax quoted Zakharova as telling a news briefing in Moscow that the militants were continuing to shell Syrian regime forces in the south of the province and to the northwest of Hama.

The agreement forged in September between Russia, which is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, and Turkey, which backs the insurgents, staved off a major regime offensive into the opposition-held region in northwest Syria.

Terrorists on Thursday killed four pro-regime fighters in Idlib province, a monitor said.

At dawn on Thursday, extremists from Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a faction led by former Al-Qaeda militants, attacked a regime position in the east of the province, said the Britain based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Four regime fighters were killed in the assault, and a member of HTS also died,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

“There is an ongoing exchange of artillery fire between the two parties” in land that is part of the planned demilitarised zone, he added.

The agreement between Russia and Turkey to create the buffer zone was aimed at staving off a regime troops’ assault on the province.

As set out under the deal, insurgents announced they had withdrawn heavy artillery from the zone, but extremists including HTS refused to leave the area.

Artillery fire by regime forces killed at least seven civilians in Idlib on Friday last week, the Observatory said.

Assad’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem expressed dissatisfaction this week with the implementation of the agreement, and criticized Turkey for shortcomings.

“Terrorists are still present in this sector with their heavy weapons,” he was quoted as saying by the pro-regime SANA news agency on Monday, referring to the buffer zone.

“This indicates that Turkey does not want to respect its obligations,” he added.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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