Clashes erupt in northwest Syria after de-escalation zones take effect

Marco Green
Мая 15, 2017

Aron Lund, a Syria expert, said the deal may dampen violence and improve the humanitarian situation in some regions.

With the help of Russian Federation and Iranian-backed Shia jihadist militias, the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict. Another is the northern part of Homs province.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group based in Hama, confirmed that fighting had broken out and accused government forces of trying to advance in the area. It could be automatically extended on the basis of a consensus between the agreeing parties.

More importantly, there has been no unified response from the fractured rebel factions, including some who were not invited to the talks. Those zones would see a halt to hostilities, including air strikes. Up to 800,000 civilians live there.

"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". Syrian government warplanes could be heard from Eastern Ghouta around midday, according to an AFP correspondent in the rebel-held town of Douma. They also expressed mistrust of the Russians.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad is not a signatory, but its state news agency said it supported the plan.

While ISIL has little-to-no presence inside the areas in question, the al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham alliance works closely with other rebel groups in all of the four proposed de-escalation areas.

No details were released on how the three countries, which support different sides in the conflict, would attempt to end the violence.

The rebel delegation at Astana had already made clear its objections to the deal, particularly Iran's role as a sponsor.

The memorandum calls for setting up four "de-escalation zones" in northern, central, and southern Syria, where Assad's forces are fighting rebels in a war that has killed some 400,000 people since 2011. He did not elaborate.

Russian Federation says the zones are now closed to aircraft from the US -led coalition.

"The coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary", said Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Sunni militant group.

While the deal and precise boundaries of the zones are still being developed, it could also be the first to involve monitoring by foreign troops in Syria, which has been embroiled in a bitter civil war for six years.

Yet troops from the three countries are now expected to secure four safe zones.

The U.S. military said in a statement that Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Saturday with General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Federation Chief of General Staff about the recent Astana agreement and affirmed their commitment to de-conflicting operations in Syria. "If they can't deliver any aid or medicine into besieged areas in Syria, how can I trust them enough to go back inside my country and live in a big prison?" asked Abou Badweh, a Syrian refugee.

Russian Federation and Iran are both key backers of Assad.

Dunford and Gerazimov also discussed the new ceasefire plan and "both also agreed to maintain regular contact", Hicks said. A senior military source in Damascus said the army had noted breaches but was waiting for the zones to be fully delineated.

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