Russian Federation says Syria de-escalation deal takes effect at midnight

Lucy Hill
May 15, 2017

Turkey, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum at the end of Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana yesterday, backing Russia's proposal to create four "de-escalation" zones in Syria.

The plan, details of which will still be worked out over the next several weeks, went into effect at midnight Friday. The four zones span the northwestern Idlib province and parts of the neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, the north of the central Homs province, Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, as well as southern Daraa and Quneitra regions.

The deal - which was agreed on Thursday and published today - will see four "de-escalation zones" established for a period of six months.

Lavrentyev, whose remarks were carried by Russian news agencies, said "the operation of aviation in the de-escalation zones, especially of the forces of the global coalition, is absolutely not envisaged, either with notification or without".

It was not clear how a cease-fire over such a broad and logistically complicated area would be achieved, or whether worldwide observers would be sent to Syria to monitor its implementation.

Throughout the Syrian conflict, Russian Federation has opposed no-fly zones that Western nations have called for but never agreed to enforce - most recently in October, during the bombardment of Aleppo.

"If that happens, we would be looking at a more serious effort than anything in the past", Aron Lund, a Syria expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an article Friday. Senior Russian and USA military officials have reportedly agreed to implement the terms of the deal, which would still allow planes to fly over the zones but not to drop bombs.

Under the Russian plan, President Bashar Assad's air force would halt flights over the designated areas across the war-torn country.

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.

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He said "security belts" will be created along the borders of the "de-escalation zones" to prevent incidents and fighting between opposing sides. The UN did not broker the deal but has expressed its support.

The Syrian military have so far not commented on the issue. It also said it did not accept Iran as a guarantor of the deal. The U.S. and Russian Federation signed the memorandum in 2015 when Russian Federation began its air operations in the country. Controlled by Jaish al-Islam, a powerful rebel faction that is participating in the Astana talks.

The Russian government appeared to imply that Russian, Turkish, and Syrian regime planes would remain grounded as well.

CNN reported Syria has violated cease fire agreements in the past, most recently in December. And if Russian or Iranian forces are deployed to man checkpoints and operate in rebel-held areas, they are likely to be attacked by rebels, quickly undoing the agreement.

De Mistura said details of the Astana agreement would become clearer in the next two weeks, adding that the United Nations was "very supportive" of the deal.

The Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee has contested Iran's signing of the agreement, saying it is "an aggressor that should be held accountable for violations against Syrians". Sergei Rudskoi said Friday that other countries could participate.

The Observatory said government and allied forces had managed to take a number of points in al-Zalakiyat, and rebel forces had returned fire and also shelled the government-held town of Halfiya.

Violent clashes broke out in Syria just "minutes" after a fresh agreement aimed at calming the conflict went into effect. The area, south of Latamneh, is expected to be part of the deal. This zone does not include the adjacent, government-besieged area of Qaboun.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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