Islamist militant rebel groups - including Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) - have reportedly refused to withdraw from the planned buffer zone between rebel fighters and Syrian government and allied forces in Idlib province as of Wednesday, October 17, violating the Sochi agreement which stipulated that "radical" groups withdraw by Monday, October 15. A Syrian government attack on Idlib province remains possible in the near-term.
The militants' refusal to leave the zone notably comes after opposition fighters fired mortar shells in the area on October 13, despite reportedly removing heavy weaponry from the zone by October 10.
In mid-September, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone between Syrian government and rebel forces, stretching from northern Latakia province to northwestern Aleppo province. The creation of the zone - planned to be supervised by both Russian and Turkish forces and in effect from October 15 - was anticipated to postpone a previously expected Russia-backed Syrian government offensive on rebel-held areas of the province. The deal stipulates that Islamist militant rebels and heavy weaponry must leave the area before the buffer zone is effectively implemented. The UN along with several other countries have warned that a full-scale offensive on Idlib province and surrounding rebel-held areas could result in a humanitarian crisis.
To date, the Syrian conflict involves many parties, including the Syrian government, the Russian government, the Iranian government, the Turkish government, a US-led coalition, and numerous armed groups on the ground (including the Islamic State) with competing goals.
Due to extremely poor security conditions, Western governments generally advise against all travel to Syria, with some banning travel to the country. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to any travel to Syria.
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