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Syria: Safe zones plan comes into force

The Latest: International probe of sarin attack underway The 'de-escalation zones' agreed for Syria
Tobias Pedroso | 06 May, 2017, 18:02

Syrian government backers Iran and Russian Federation, and rebel supporter Turkey, on Thursday signed a deal during talks in Kazakh capital Astana setting up four "de-escalation zones" in Syria.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it accepted a Russian proposal to create de-escalation zones, vowing not to shell the areas in compliance with a largely ignored ceasefire agreed to in December.

"The commitments made should not affect the rights of Syrians to seek and enjoy asylum", he added - an apparent reference to concerns that one of the aims of plans for safe zones is to discourage refugees.

"The work of combat aircraft in zones of de-escalation, especially of the worldwide coalition planes, is not expected at all, with or without notification", said Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia's Special Presidential Representative for Syria.

The diplomat, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, also suggested that Russian and Turkish warplanes would be prohibited from flying in four designated "de-escalation zones", where Syrian government and rebel forces are supposed to stop fighting each other. And while the Syrian government voiced its support for the agreement, neither Damascus nor the Syrian rebels signed any deal.

"If that happens, we would be looking at a more serious effort than anything in the past", Aron Lund, a Syria expert wrote in an article Friday.

The armed opposition delegation to the talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana said in a statement released early Saturday that the truce should include all Syria and not just specific areas. It also said the deal could be extended to more areas.

Marine Major Adrian JT Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said "the coalition will continue to target Isis wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary".

Turkey and Russian Federation are deeply entangled in the war in Syria, including each having troops on the ground there - Ankara supporting various Syrian opposition factions and Moscow backing President Bashar Assad's forces.

The exact boundaries of the proposed safe zones in Syria are yet to be defined but they are meant to focus on rebel-held territory.

The U.S. State Department sent a representative to the talks, but is not a direct participant so far.

"It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late on May 4. Teams of worldwide observers would monitor the safe zones.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, a phone call between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided a platform for both sides to discuss the situation in Syria and the prospect of establishing peace.

The government supported the de-escalation plan, but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups.