- Attack threatens key Russia-Turkey deal to protect assault on Idlib
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.
The Russian-Turkish accord also provides for jihadists to withdraw by today from the demilitarised zone ringing rebel-held areas in and around Idlib province.
But a monitor and AFP correspondent said yesterday 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 Saturday hit 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"This is the first clear violation of the deal since the heavy weapons were withdrawn.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.