A new type of deal to reduce violence in Syria

Cheryl Sanders
May 8, 2017

A deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up safe zones for civilians in Syria went into effect at midnight (2100 GMT), a monitoring group has said.

Rebel commander Jamil al-Saleh, in northern Hama, said that almost an hour after the deal went into effect, battles raged with government forces.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, who is based in the southern province of Daraa that borders Jordan, said there were six breaches in the province when government forces shelled opposition-held areas.

The agreement - supported by Turkey and Iran - is the first worldwide attempt to reduce violence in the war-torn country that includes the implementation of armed foreign monitors on the ground.

"The United Nations, the United States and Saudi Arabia have welcomed the deal", Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

Several ceasefires have been agreed since Syria's conflict broke out in March 2011, but they have failed to permanently stem the fighting. "Iran has been murdering the Syrian people and instigating sedition and sectarianism, and there is no guarantee that they will act as a guarantor", he said.

No-fly zones have been a contentious issue in the Syrian conflict, now in its seventh year; they have always been requested by rebel groups and rejected by the government.

The United States and some Arab countries back rebel groups that want to overthrow Assad.

Political and armed opposition groups have rejected the proposal, saying Russian Federation has been unwilling or unable to get Assad and his Iranian-backed militia allies to respect past ceasefires. The first zone includes the northwestern province of Idlib, the western province of Latakia, the western-central province of Hama, and the northern province of Aleppo. Sergei Rudskoi said Friday other countries could participate.

Under the plan - the details of which still haven't been made public - Russian combat planes would still be able to strike Islamic State group areas, mostly in eastern Syria.

The Kremlin declared that President Trump had agreed to the safe-zone proposal but the White House would only confirm that Russian President Putin had spoken to Trump about the issue during their recent phone conversation.

Russian Federation suspended the communications channel last month after the United States fired a barrage of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base in response to the Syrian military allegedly using chemical weapons in an attack. The armed opposition, instead, is highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy.

It provides for a ceasefire, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid and the return of refugees after the creation of "de-escalation zones" across stretches of eight Syrian provinces.

What the deal does not cover are areas controlled by Islamic State group militants and US -backed Kurdish groups.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been a reduction in fighting across Syria since the deal came into force, but warned it was too early to say whether it would last.

The deal marks the latest diplomatic effort to quell the fighting.

That leaves the US and its allies free to continue the campaign to retake IS-held territory.

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