Sun, May 07, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Fighting in Syria eases as Russia-led ‘de-escalation zones’ deal takes effect

Reuters, BEIRUT

Syrian girls walk past destroyed buildings in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Fighting between Syrian rebel and government forces eased yesterday as a Russian-led effort to shore up a ceasefire took effect, although battles continued on an important front line near Hama, a rebel commander and war monitor said.

The deal to make “de-escalation” zones in the major areas of conflict in western Syria took effect at midnight on Friday.

The initiative was proposed by Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, with the support of Turkey, which backs the opposition. Iran, al-Assad’s other major ally, also backed it.

Political and armed opposition groups have rejected the proposal, saying Russia has been unwilling or unable to get al-Assad and his Iranian-backed militia allies to respect past ceasefires.

Damascus said it backed the proposal, but added that it would continue to fight what it called terrorist groups across the country.

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 reduction in violence must be clear and lasting,” observatory director Rami Abdulrahman told reporters.

The rebel commander said the general level of violence was reduced, but added: “Regime attempts [to advance] in the Hama countryside continue.”

With the help of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict. The wide array of rebel groups include some supported by Turkey, the US and Persian Gulf monarchies.

The observatory said it had not recorded any deaths as a result of fighting in the four zones since midnight, but there had been some violations.

Breaches were seen mainly in northern Hama Governorate, where Syrian government and allied forces have taken territory from rebels in recent weeks.

Warplanes fired at the rebel-held village of al-Zalakiyat and nearby positions in the northern Hama countryside, where the combatants exchanged shelling, the Britain-based war monitoring group said.

The monitor said government forces shelled the nearby towns of Kafr Zita and al-Latamneh.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian Army.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group based in Hama, confirmed that fighting had broken out after midnight.

Rasheed said rebel-held Idlib Governorate to the north of Hama was almost completely quiet, but the attacks, which included barrel bombs, were focused on the northern Hama front line.

“The bombardment has not stopped; it is no different from before,” he told reporters.

Iran and Turkey on Thursday agreed to a Russian proposal for safe zones in Syria. The text of the memorandum was yesterday published by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The agreement said four safe zones would be established in Syria for a period of six months, which could be extended if the three signatory countries agree.

Weaponry and airstrikes were not to be used in those zones by combatants, the text said.

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

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