Truce in Syria safe zones mostly observed

Bruno Cirelli
Mag 12, 2017

The de-escalation zones' deal went into effect in Syria at midnight Saturday.

The presumption is that Russian Federation and Iran will ensure compliance of their ally, the government of President Bashar Assad, and opposition-backer Turkey will bring rebel factions on board.

Turkey is a major backer of opposition factions and has also sent troops into northern Syria.

A deal hammered out by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up "de-escalation zones" in mostly opposition-held parts of Syria has gone into effect.

"The reduction in violence must be clear and lasting", Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

With the help of Russian Federation and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict.

Syria's government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting "terrorism" wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr group, said rebels doubted Russian or Syrian government warplanes would stop striking opposition areas after the deal takes effect.

The Britain-based war monitoring group said the warring sides exchanged shelling and were fighting in a rebel-held village and nearby areas of the Hama countryside.

But analysts say there is much yet to be negotiated on Syria and remaining differences between Turkey and Russian Federation.

The deal unveiled by Russian Federation on Thursday to set up four "de-escalation zones" is backed by Turkey and Iran.

Russia's foreign ministry published the full text of the agreement on Saturday.

The agreement also included creating conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance and the return of displaced civilians to their homes.

The memorandum of understanding between the two countries was suspended by Russian Federation last month after the US launched a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian military airfield.

The "de-escalation zone" agreement does not include the Islamic State.

The Astana talks were meant to shore up an oft-violated ceasefire originally agreed in December.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was in Astana as an observer, described the agreement as "an important promising positive step in the right direction" toward a halt in the fighting. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was encouraged by the agreement.

However, the United States is not part of the deal, and the Syrian armed opposition refused to sign it, saying that Iran, which it considers a party in the conflict, should not be a guarantor.

The agreement says that the de-escalation areas and security zones are a temporary measure, that could be in place for six months. The opposition strongly rejects the idea that Iran can play a role in a cease-fire, accusing the Shiite-majority country of fueling the sectarian nature of the conflict and orchestrating population swaps that amount to demographic change.

Turkey's foreign ministry suggested the scope was wider and would include the whole of Idlib province; parts of Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces; parts of Homs province; parts of Damascus and the East Ghouta region; and also parts of the southern Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

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