15:39 GMT08 March 2021
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    KOKTEBEL (Crimea) (Sputnik) - Moscow is double-checking reports on the complete withdrawal of heavy weaponry by militants from Syria's Idlib, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday.

    "Yesterday, October 9, Turkish media reported that the pullout of heavy weapons took place, we are now verifying this information through our experts," Zakharova told a briefing, adding that to date, "over 1,000 militants have left the demilitarized zone, and about 100 pieces of equipment have been withdrawn."

    READ MORE: US Builds New Military Base on Syrian-Iraqi Border — Kurdish Commander

    She also expressed concerns that Washington would attempt to set up "some sort of a separate administration" on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, violating Syrian constitution.

    “Unfortunately, the situation on the eastern bank of Euphrates is becoming more and more alarming. The Americans are de-facto running the show in this area, relying on their Kurdish allies,” the spokeswoman noted.

    The Anadolu news agency earlier reported that the Syrian armed opposition completed on Monday withdrawing heavy weapons from the contact line in the area.

    Idlib is the last major stronghold of militants in Syria. On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to set up a demilitarized zone in the city along the contact line of the armed opposition and the government forces by October 15.

    US and Peace Process in Afghanistan

    The diplomat addressed the US campaign in Afganistan, stressing that Moscow advised to refrain from the military approach of the problem.

    "The only way to end the longstanding conflict in the country is to achieve a general Afghan agreement by political and diplomatic means… Washington’s current bet on military force only increases the number of Afghan authorities' enemies and provokes a rise in extremist sentiment in the country. We categorically reject this approach and urge the US side to focus on the launch of the peace process," Zakharova said.

    Over the past 17 years, the United States has failed to deal with the threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, she stressed.

    "On the contrary, these threats have only intensified, one might say, have already become a headache for the whole world," the spokeswoman added.

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    On Wednesday alone, 35 servicemen and policemen and at least 19 local residents were killed in Afghanistan, Zakharova said.

    "These figures characterize the state of affairs in the country better than any assessments," she noted.

    Zakharova also recalled that a US-led airstrike conducted on October 4 in Kandahar killed four civilians and injured eight others, and said that Moscow hopes for an official investigation into this incident and for the punishment of those responsible for it.

    Sentsov Case and Anti-Russia Campaign

    Zakharova also commented on the fate of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, stating that the case is being used as an instrument for fueling the anti-Russia campaign.

    "Nobody in the West cares about the fate of Oleg Sentsov as a person, nobody in the West cares about the fate of Sentsov as a filmmaker, with the majority of people not even having a clue what they are talking about. Everyone needs Sentsov as an instrument in the ongoing anti-Russia campaign," Zakharova said, answering a question about why the West was concerned about the fate of Sentsov but ignored the detention of RIA Novosti Ukraine portal head Kirill Vyshinsky in Ukraine.

    Asked whether there was hope for swapping Vyshinsky for Sentsov, the spokeswoman said that the ministry had nothing to do with hopes and was engaged in concrete work to ensure the journalist's release.

    "In this case we, as a political institution, do not comment on this sort of thing, because we lack authority, the legal basis at this stage," Zakharova indicated.

    Sentsov, who opposed Crimea's reunification with Russia, was convicted by a Russian court in August 2015 for plotting terrorist attacks on the peninsula. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sentsov has said that his conviction was politically motivated.

    A number of prominent watchdogs in the West have repeatedly called for the his release, while the Russian authorities have in turn argued that the filmmaker had been convicted for attempting to carry out acts of terrorism, something that could have resulted in deaths. On Tuesday, Sentsov was shortlisted for the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

    READ MORE: Ukraine's Senior Diplomat Summoned Over Trade Mission Attack — Russian FM

    Vyshinsky, a Ukrainian citizen, was arrested in Kiev in May on suspicion of supporting the eastern Ukrainian breakaway republics. He was then transferred to the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, where he was taken into custody by court order, which was later extended until November 4.


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    demilitarized zone, militants, kurds, Maria Zakharova, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Syria, US, Russia
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