"We will never withdraw from the zone," says Hayat Tahrir al Sham, the largest militant group in northwestern Idlib, two days after regime announced a truce between it and opposition forces.
The chief of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (or HTS), the main militant group in Syria's northwestern Idlib, on Saturday refused any withdrawal from a future buffer zone after a truce went into effect in the area.
"What the regime could not take militarily or by force, they will not get through peaceful means or through negotiations and politics," said Abu Mohamed al Jolani.
"We will never withdraw from the zone."
Jolani made his comments during a meeting with reporters organised by the former al Qaeda affiliate.
The Assad regime announced the offer of a truce between it and opposition forces on Thursday, which included a commitment to abide by a de-escalation zone agreed upon by Turkey and Russia.
Among the conditions of the truce is a demand for the Syrian opposition to withdraw all of its forces and weaponry from the buffer zone.
Most of Idlib province and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia –– which currently hosts some three million residents –– are controlled by the HTS and other smaller rebel groups.
The region is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by the Turkish-Russian deal, but it has come under increasing fire by Assad regime and its backer Moscow since the end of April.
"We will not change our position, neither at the request of our friends or our enemies," Jolani insisted, refusing any idea of a demilitarised zone.
Fatalities since April
Air strikes on the Idlib region stopped on Friday after the regime's truce announcement but the fighting since late April has killed 790 civilians in regime and Russian attacks, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says.
Fighting over the same period has claimed the lives of nearly two thousand combatants, including 900 regime loyalists, according to the monitor.
Around 400,000 people have been displaced and dozens of hospitals and schools damaged, according to the United Nations.
On Friday HTS warned that it would respond to any ceasefire violations by its enemies.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 400,000 people and driven millions from their homes since it started with the brutal repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.