Posts Tagged ‘Astana’

Russia, Turkey, Iran Close to Syria De-escalation Zones Deal

September 14, 2017

ASTANA — Russia, Turkey and Iran are close to finalizing an agreement on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria, a senior Russian negotiator said on Thursday.

The three sides are discussing details of the agreement at meetings in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, Alexander Lavrentyev, who leads the Russian delegation, told reporters.

(Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov)

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Zarif Meeting Russian Leadership In Sochi Ahead of Astana Talks

Foreign Ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, attend a news conference in Moscow, April 14, 2017

Foreign Ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, attend a news conference in Moscow, April 14, 2017

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Russia’s Black Sea resort town of Sochi on September 13 where he was expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Zarif’s talks with the Russian leadership would focus on the conflict in Syria as well as “the Middle East in general, issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, and the situation in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.”

Zarif has not visited Russia since April, but high level Iranian officials have had frequent meetings with their Russian counterparts in Tehran and Moscow.

The meeting comes a day before the start of a sixth round of Syria peace talks in Astana that are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey – negotiations that are separate from United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva.
Experts from Russia, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Astana ahead of the two-day talks and were holding consultations there on September 13.

Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, and a Syrian government delegation also arrived in Kazakhstan’s capital on September 13 for the Astana talks, which will include representatives of some Syrian opposition groups and an observer mission from the United States.

The U.S. delegation is headed by David Satterfield, the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

The U.S. State Department said Satterfield would “reinforce U.S. support for all efforts to achieve a sustainable de-escalation of violence and provision of unhindered humanitarian aid.”

But it said Washington “remains concerned with Iran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’ of the Astana process.”

It says Iran’s “activities in Syria and unquestioning support” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government “have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians.”

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concern about Iran’s presence in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Russia six times since 2014 and held talk with President Vladimir Putin and other Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding Syria.

According to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry, meeting is expected to focus on how to regulate the operations of “de-escalation forces in Syria and formation of the control forces in Idlib” – a Syrian province bordering Turkey.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 10 that Moscow hopes agreements on a fourth de-escalation zone in Syria near the city of Idlib will be formalized at the meeting.

Russia media reports have quote senior Russian military officials as saying that Moscow wants Russian military police units to be deployed in Idlib to monitor a cease-fire.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Kazinform, TASS, Izvestia, and Interfax

https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-zarif-visiting-russia/28732756.html

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In new shift, France urges Syria transition without Assad

September 1, 2017
© AFP/File | Top French officials appear to be divided over what to do about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
PARIS (AFP) – Bashar al-Assad “cannot be the solution” for Syria after six years of conflict, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday, returning to a position questioned in July by President Emmanuel Macron.”We cannot build peace with Assad,” Le Drian said on French radio RTL.

“He cannot be the solution,” Le Drian said.

“The solution is to establish… a timeline for political transition that can lead to a new constitution and elections, and this transition cannot happen with Bashar al-Assad.”

Macron said in July that the removal of the Syrian president was not a “prerequisite” for peace in the wartorn country, and that he did not see a “legitimate successor” to the leader who has been in power since 2000.

Paris had been a key supporter of the opposition to Assad’s rule since the start of the conflict in 2011 which has since killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions.

But Macron said that the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group was a priority for France, which has endured a string of terror attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015, some planned in Syria.

– UN talks in October? –

Le Drian said Friday that IS “will be defeated in Syria,” leaving the country with a “single conflict, that of the civil war” pitting an opposition against the Assad government.

Macron has tasked Le Drian with forming a new contact group on Syria to relaunch the stalled political process.

So far Paris has not been forthcoming on the composition of the group, notably on the question of whether regional power Iran — a key backer of the Syrian regime along with Russia — would take part.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said last month that he hopes to launch “real, substantive” peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.

De Mistura has previously hosted seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks in Geneva, with Assad’s fate one of the main obstacles to progress.

Kazakhstan has hosted parallel talks, with a new round possible in mid-September.

Earlier peace talks in Astana saw Russia, Iran and Turkey — a backer of the rebels — hammer out a plan to establish safe zones across swathes of Syria.

Erdogan hosts Russia defence chief amid Syria border tensions

July 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP | The United States views the YPG fighters as the most effective fighting force against IS jihadists in Syria

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday held talks with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Istanbul as tension soared on the Syrian border between Turkish troops and a Kurdish militia.

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Sergei Shoigu

Turkey and Russia were long at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, with Ankara seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow remaining his chief international ally.

But cooperation had tightened markedly since last year, with the two countries jointly sponsoring peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Sunday’s meeting took place at Istanbul’s Tarabya Palace by the Bosphorus, the presidency said, with images showing Turkey’s top general Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were also in attendance.

Last August, Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield cross-border operation aimed at clearing the border zone in northern Syria of both Kurdish militia fighters and jihadists.

The operation was wound up in March but Erdogan has not excluded a new cross-border offensive should the need arise.

Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have repeatedly exchanged cross-border fire in recent days and there is speculation Ankara may be planning an assault on the group in Afrin.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group and the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

But Washington is arming the YPG and the group is heavily involved in the US-backed operation to oust Islamic State (IS) jihadists from their stronghold of Raqa.

The Sabah daily said Sunday that pro-Ankara Syrian rebels were on standby for an operation against the YPG and Russia could ensure security in the air.

Asked about the possibility of an operation around Afrin, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Saturday: “We take all measures to protect our borders and national security.”

He said the Turkey would “instantly” hit back against any threat from Syria, be it from IS, the PKK or the YPG.

Russia and the United States agree to fully resume Syria agreement for preventing mid-air incidents

May 7, 2017

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Russian Tu-22M aircraft in flight

  • Russian and U.S. chiefs of general staff agreed to resume the implementation of a joint memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria
  • Discussed in a phone call the Syria de-escalation zones and agreed to continue working on additional measures aimed to avoid clashes in Syria
  • The aircraft safety memorandum was signed in October 2015 after Russia began bombing targets in Syria 

Russia and the United States have found common ground over Syria.

No automatic alt text available.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet

The Russian and U.S. chiefs of general staff agreed on Saturday to fully resume the implementation of a joint memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying.

Russian General Valery Gerasimov and General Joseph Dunford of the United States discussed in a phone call the Syria de-escalation zones and agreed to continue working on additional measures aimed to avoid clashes in Syria.

Russian and U.S. chiefs of general staff agreed on Saturday to fully resume the implementation of a joint memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

Russian and U.S. chiefs of general staff agreed on Saturday to fully resume the implementation of a joint memorandum on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

The aircraft safety memorandum was signed in October 2015 after Russia began bombing targets in Syria to support Syrian government forces in their fight against Islamic State and other armed groups.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement that Dunford and Gerasimov ‘talked about the recent Astana agreement and affirmed their commitment to de-conflicting operations in Syria. Both also agreed to maintain regular contact.’

An agreement reached at peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, and backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, calls for ‘de-escalation zones’ in major areas of conflict between Syrian government forces and rebel groups.

The aircraft safety memorandum was signed in October 2015 after Russia began bombing targets in Syria to support Syrian government forces in their fight against Islamic State and other armed groups

The aircraft safety memorandum was signed in October 2015 after Russia began bombing targets in Syria to support Syrian government forces in their fight against Islamic State and other armed groups

This news comes right after US-led coalition warplanes were barred from flying over four ‘safe zones’ in Syria from Saturday as part of a Russian plan to reduce the violence there.

Sergei Rudskoi, a Russia military leader, said four ‘de-escalation’ zones in rebel held territory in Idlib, Homs, a suburb of Damascus and between Daraa and Quneitra provinces will be established under a pact that comes into force from tomorrow.

As a sign of intent, he said Russia warplanes had already stopped bombing the areas in an armistice which he claimed started on May 1.

The Russian plan was signed by Iran and Turkey on Thursday and is backed by the UN. Moscow said that it was talking to ‘Jordan and a number of other countries’ to sign up as backers of the initiative.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4481346/Russia-agree-prevent-mid-air-incidents-Syria.html#ixzz4gOmahb4R
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U.S. Dismisses Russia’s Ban on Aircraft Over Syrian Safe Zones

May 6, 2017

Areas were established without explicit U.S. consent during Russian talks with Turkey, Iran

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Russian military aircraft at Hmeymim air base near Latakia, Syria, — released by Russia’s Defence Ministry

 

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Updated May 5, 2017 8:37 p.m. ET

A Russian envoy said U.S. aircraft are barred from flying over the “de-escalation zones” that Russia, Iran and Turkey recently agreed to establish in Syria, but U.S. officials dismissed the admonition as it continues operations to target Islamic State.

The disagreement left deeply uncertain the status of the zones that were established this week without explicit U.S. consent during talks on Syria in Kazakhstan.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-u-s-aircraft-barred-from-syria-safe-zones-1493983021

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From Fox News

A State Department official on Friday said that the Russian proposal calling to bar U.S. military aircrafts from flying over designated safe zones cannot “limit” the U.S.’s mission against ISIS in the country in any way.

“The coalition will continue to strike ISIS targets in Syria,” the official told The Wall Street Journal. “The campaign to defeat ISIS will continue at the same relentless pace as it is proceeding now.”

A deal hammered out by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in mostly opposition-held parts of Syria went into effect Saturday.

The plan is the latest international attempt to reduce violence in the war-ravaged country, and is the first to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria. The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed on to the deal. The armed opposition, instead, was highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy.

The plan, details of which will still be worked out over the next several weeks, went into effect at midnight Friday. There were limited reports of bombing in northern Homs and Hama, two areas expected to be part of the “de-escalation zones,” activists said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

It is not clear how the cease-fire or “de-escalation zones” will be enforced in areas still to be determined in maps to emerge a month from now.

Russian officials said it will be at least another month until the details are worked out and the safe areas established.

In the tangled mess that constitutes Syria’s battlefields, there is much that can go wrong with the plan, agreed on in talks Thursday in Kazakhstan.

There is no clear mechanism to resolve conflict and violations— like most other previous deals struck by backers of the warring sides.

A potential complication to implementing the plan is the crowded airspace over Syria. The deal calls for all aircraft to be banned from flying over the safe zones.

Syrian, Russian, Turkish and U.S.-led coalition aircraft operate in different, sometimes same areas in Syria. It is not yet clear how the new plan would affect flightpaths of U.S.-led coalition warplanes battling Islamic State militants and other radical groups — and whether the American air force would abide by a diminished air space.

Russia and Iran — two of the plan’s three sponsors — are key allies of President Bashar Assad’s government and both are viewed as foreign occupation forces by his opponents. Rebels fighting to topple Assad are enraged by Iran’s role in the deal and blame the Shiite power for fueling the sectarian nature of Syria’s conflict, now in its seventh year.

Turkey, the third sponsor, is a major backer of opposition factions and has also sent troops into northern Syria, drawing the ire of Assad and his government.

Yet troops from the three countries are now expected to secure four safe zones. An official with Russia’s military general staff said other countries may eventually have a role in enforcing the de-escalation areas.

Russian Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told reporters on Friday personnel and formations from Russia, Iran and Turkey will operate checkpoints and observation posts.

He said “security belts” will be created along the borders of the “de-escalation zones” to prevent incidents and fighting between opposing sides. The checkpoints and observation posts will ensure free movement of unarmed civilians and humanitarian aid and will facilitate economic activities, he said.

Rebels have expressed concerns the deal is a prelude to a de facto partitioning of Syria into spheres of influence.

Osama Abo Zayd, a spokesman for the Syrian military factions at the Kazakhstan talks, told The Associated Press it was “incomprehensible” for Iran to act as a guarantor of the deal. A cease-fire is unsustainable in the presence of the Iranian-backed militias in Syria, he said.

“We can’t imagine Iran playing a role of peace,” Abo Zayd said.

The U.S. sent a senior White House official to the Kazakh capital of Astana, where representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran signed the deal, but had no role in the deal.

The idea of armed monitors is a new element — observers deployed in the early years of the Syrian conflict, including U.N. and Arab League observers, were unarmed.

But it’s difficult to imagine how many boots on the ground would be needed to monitor the yet to be mapped areas or how and where exactly Russian, Iranian and Turkish troops would patrol.

“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.

Lund said that from the outside, the agreement “does not look like it has great chances of success” and seems to “lack a clear mechanism to resolve conflicting claims and interpretations.”

Late Friday, a Syrian opposition coalition, the High Negotiations Committee, denounced the deal in a strongly worded statement. The Western, Saudi-backed HNC said the deal lacks legitimacy and seeks to divide the country.

The HNC also said the deal was an attempt to give Syrian government troops military victories they could not achieve on the battleground by neutralizing rebel-held areas. It called on the U.S. and other Arab allied countries, to prevent the implementation of the deal.

A rebel commander in northern Hama said nearly an hour after the deal went into effect, battles raged with government forces. The area, south of Latamneh, is expected to be part of the deal. Jamil al-Saleh, the commander, said government shelling was intense amid an attempt to advance in the area, scene to fierce battles for weeks. “What deal?” he scoffed.

A previous cease-fire agreement signed in Astana on Dec. 30 helped reduce overall violence in Syria for several weeks but eventually collapsed. Other attempts at a cease-fire in Syria have all ended in failure.

The “de-escalation zones” will be closed to military aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition, the Russian official who signed the agreement, Alexander Lavrentye, said Friday. Under the plan, Assad’s air force — and presumably Russian, too — would also halt flights over those areas.

In rebel-held Idlib, a protest was held Friday against the plan, denounced as a plot to “divide Syria.”

“Any person or state who enters this land to divide it is the enemy of the Syrian people” activist Abed al-Basset Sarout told the crowd.

Some refugees were skeptical.

Ahmad Rabah, a Syrian refugee from Homs now in Lebanon, said he did not trust Assad’s forces and going back to so-called safe zones would be tantamount to living in a “big prison.”

The Pentagon said the de-escalation agreement would not affect the U.S.-led air campaign against IS.

“The coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary,” said Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Sunni militant group.

Rudskoi also suggested that Syrian government forces, freed up as a result of the safe areas, could be rerouted to fight against IS in the central and eastern part of Syria.

Another question left unanswered is how the deal would affect U.S. airstrikes targeting al-Qaida’s positions in Syria.

U.S. warplanes have frequently struck the al-Qaida affiliate in the northern Idlib province, where the militant group dominates.

But under Thursday’s deal, the entire province is designated to be one of the four “de-escalation zones.”

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said that if implemented the deal will allow for the separation of the opposition from IS fighters and those of the al-Qaida affiliate. He did not elaborate.

Syria’s government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting “terrorism” wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/05/06/us-dismisses-russia-s-ban-on-military-aircraft-over-syria-safe-zones.html

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Russia: Airspace Over Safe Zones Is Closed — But The U.S. Does Not Agree

by Jason Ditz
Anti-War.com

A day after the US gave tepid support for the establishment of Syrian safe zones to try to separate combatant forces and reduce the amount of fighting, they appear to have noticed that this might get in their way of their own attacks across the country, and are pledging to ignore the demilitarization of the zones.

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Back when Turkey and the US were both super keen on the idea of safe zones, a big selling point was the imposition of no-fly zones over the areas, to keep the civilians within getting bombed. This was also a big obstacle, as the US wasn’t totally clear it could do this without declaring war on Russia.

With Russia also on board now, that should’ve been easier. Instead, Russia announced that the safe zones, which went into effect overnight, are now officially closed to all warplanes, and US officials are livid at the idea, insisting they have no intention of respecting that.

Largely this appears to be a case of the US just being deliberately difficult, as none of the safe zones are in areas US warplanes were operating in the first place. The reality, however, is that the zones are now being used in service of a ceasefire the US never really supported to begin with ,and with the US-backed rebels also objecting about the ceasefire getting in the way of their war, the US will be non-cooperative.

http://news.antiwar.com/2017/05/05/us-dismisses-ban-on-aircraft-over-syrian-safe-zones/

Peace and Freedom Note: Intentionally or not, the author takes sides with Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad. The de-escalation zones do not protest Syrian rebels or other groups long supported by the U.S., and Araba allies. The Russian plan is not supported by the High Negotiating Committee, the UN mediation group working on Syria. If U.S. air power is thrown out of Syria, Russia, Iran and assad are not the only “winners.” Al-Qaida and the Islamic State also can “win” with free movement through Syria. This Russian plan is bad for all the forces fighting the Islamic State including Saudi Arabia and most other Arab States, and Israel.

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Pentagon Assesses Russia Plan For Syria

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: May 5, 2017

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WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials said Friday that they are assessing how U.S. operations against the Islamic State could be affected by new weapons-free zones enforced in western Syria by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Portions of southern Syria, Idlib province and portions of Aleppo, Homs, Latakia and Hama provinces would become protected areas where the use of “any kind of weapons, including aerial assets, shall be ceased,” according to an agreement signed Thursday by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The agreement also states the three countries will guarantee the “security zones” are enforced.

Latakia has a Russian air base where Syrian President Bashar Assad moved jets following U.S. cruise-missile strikes on Sharyat air base in early April. Aleppo, a former anti-government stronghold, had been under siege for months until it fell to Syrian forces in December.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, emphasized the areas identified in the agreement are not the parts of Syria where the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is now focusing its operations.

“Our focus of effort is on ISIS and ISIS is well to the east of what I have seen talked about [in the agreement],” Davis said.

However, the United States has conducted airstrikes against ISIS in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in recent months.

A U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said a delegation representing forces opposing the Assad regime who were part of the meeting Thursday in Turkey refused to sign the security-zone agreement. The U.S. official said, without opposition signatures, it raises the question about whether the agreement is in effect.

Davis said he would not speculate on how the agreement could affect future U.S. air operations in Syria.

“We are not able to talk about this right now,” he said.

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter:@TaraCopp

https://www.stripes.com/pentagon-assessing-impact-of-security-zone-agreement-in-syria-1.466905#.WQ1vxOXyuUk

Syria safe zones hit by clashes on first day

May 6, 2017

Reuters and The Associated Press

Reports of bombing in Hama province as Russian-led agreement intended to stop conflict between government and rebels comes into force

Russia says it will be a month before ‘de-escalation zones’ are fully established, as Syrian opposition voices concern.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are to enforce the four ‘de-escalation’ zones [Pavel Golovkin/AP]
The de-escalation zone deal was agreed by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Russian officials said it would be another month before its details are worked out. Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Syrian government forces and rebels clashed in the north-western province of Hama on Friday shortly after a Russian-led deal to establish safe zones took effect, a monitor and a rebel official said.

The zones, agreed to by Russia, Turkey and Iran, went into effect at midnight on Friday. The plan’s details will be worked out over the next few weeks but the zones appear intended to halt conflict in specific areas between government forces and rebels, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops.

Fighter jets fired at the rebel-held village of al-Zalakiyat and nearby positions in the Hama countryside, where the combatants exchanged shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitoring group said government forces shelled the nearby towns of Kafr Zita and Latamneh. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian army.

The de-escalation zones are the latest international attempt to reduce violence in the war-ravaged country, and represent the first effort to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria.

The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed up to the deal. The armed opposition was highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy.

Russian officials said it would be at least another month before details were worked out and the safe areas established.

The Syrian government supported the de-escalation plan but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups. Rebels rejected the deal and said they would not recognise Iran as a guarantor of any ceasefire.

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

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 United States and Gulf monarchies.

The main Syrian opposition body, the HNC, which includes political and armed groups, denounced the plan earlier as vague. The High Negotiations Committee said the deal “was concluded without the Syrian people” and “lacks the minimum basics of legitimacy”.

Iran and Turkey agreed on Thursday to a Russian proposal for de-escalation zones in Syria but the memorandum the three guarantors signed has not been made public, leaving its details unclear.

In the tangled mess that constitutes Syria’s battlefields there is much that can go wrong with the plan, which emerged from a summit in Kazakhstan.

There is no clear mechanism to resolve conflict and violations, like most other previous deals struck by backers of the warring sides.

A potential complication to implementing the plan is the crowded airspace over Syria. The deal calls for all aircraft to be banned from flying over the safe zones. Syrian, Russian, Turkish and US-led coalition aircraft all operate in Syria.

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From Al Jazeera

An agreement to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria came into effect at midnight on Friday, but it will be at least another month before all the details are worked out and the safe areas are fully established, according to Russian officials.

The plan was agreed by Russia, Turkey, and Iran during Syria talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on Thursday, but sharply criticised by the Syrian opposition which rejected Iran’s role as guarantor in any deal.

It envisions establishing four safe zones that would bring relief for hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians and encourage refugees to return, Russian military officials said on Friday.

FOUR ‘DE-ESCALATION ZONES’ IN SYRIA:

– The first one includes Idlib, as well as northeastern areas of Latakia province, western areas of Aleppo province and northern areas of Hama province. There are more than one million people in the zone.

– The second one is in the north of Homs province. It includes al-Rastan and Talbiseh, as well as nearby areas controlled by the opposition groups. There are about 180,000 civilians in the zone.

– The third one is Eastern Ghouta, home to about 690,000 civilians. This zone does not include the area of Qaboun.

– The fourth zone is located in the south of Syria and includes areas of Deraa and Quneitra provinces. Up to 800,000 civilians live there.

Russian defence ministry

There were limited reports of bombing in northern Homs and Hama, two areas expected to be part of the “de-escalation zones,” after midnight. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are to enforce the zones, but Russian general staff official Sergei Rudskoi said that other countries could participate. He did not elaborate on which those countries might be.

The plan, which has not been published, calls for all aircraft to be banned from flying over the safe zones.

Syrian, Russian, Turkish and US-led coalition aircraft operate in overlapping areas across Syrian airspace.

According to media reports, the plan allows for Russia, Turkey and Iran to continue fighting ISIL, as well as al-Qaeda-affiliated groups inside the safe zones.

Previous ceasefires have collapsed as Russian and Syrian jets continued to hit civilians under the premise of targetting hardline rebels.

Syria’s government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting “terrorism” wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.

Reacting to the announcement that the “de-escalation zones” will be closed to military aircraft from the US-led coalition, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said the US military has “not changed or altered our mission in any way”.

“These de-escalation zones, as I have seen them on the map, are in Western Syria and not in areas where ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] is active,” he said. “Our operations are focused on ISIS, which are farther east.”

‘Vague and illegitimate’

The latest round of Syrian peace talks in Astana was sponsored by opposition supporter Turkey and Syrian government backers Russia and Iran.

Yet, the de-escalation zones agreement was not signed by the Syrian government, nor the opposition.

Representatives of several rebel groups in Astana said they could not accept Iran as a guarantor of the deal.

READ MORE: Life on hold – Stories of Syrian refugees

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, criticised the plan as vague and illegitimate.

The Riyadh-based HNC, which includes political and armed groups, cautioned against attempts to “partition the country through vague meanings of what has been called … ‘de-escalation’ zones,” in a statement on Friday.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group, said Russia was “merely playing political games” and “making declarations”.

He said rebels doubted Russian or Syrian government warplanes would stop striking rebel-held areas after the deal takes effect.

“This is not the first time,” he added, referring to several mediated ceasefires that have unravelled in Syria’s multi-sided conflict.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Moscow, said the Russian ministry of defence had set out some of the details that would be established next; including making specific maps of the zones, establishing coordinates, and setting up buffer strips and checkpoints which would allow civilians freedom of movement and the access of humanitarian aid.

“[Russia] did mention that, if there is any military activity, there could be repercussions. How exactly that is going to play out – we don’t know the details,” said Dekker.

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Al Jazeera that the agreement is a move forward, “but there are so many spoilers in this”.

Doyle said there are huge question marks over the commitment of various actors to reducing violence and over how the plan will be enforced. He said confidence measures and further agreements will be needed to back up the agreement.

“If you are going to make these areas in any way safe on the ground, you’re going to need a significant military deployment and you’re probably going to need third parties who will have the trust of all sides,” said Doyle.

“We’re nowhere near that sort of situation at the moment because nobody has been able to demonstrate that the violence is going to be able to recede to the sort of levels that are necessary.”

 

“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.

The US state department said that it supports “any effort” that can genuinely move towards peace but voiced scepticism about the new agreement’s ability to create safe zones.

With the air space closed over these so-called safe areas, they would become de facto no-fly zones. Calls for such a measure have been made numerous times by opposition members, but it has never been imposed until now.

Previous regions considered for no-fly zones were the border areas with Jordan and Turkey.

Syria’s civil war, currently in its seventh year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and has drawn in world powers on all sides.

The negotiations in Astana are viewed as complementary to broader United Nations-brokered talks in Geneva on a political settlement, but neither have yielded real progress as of yet.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/russia-syrian-safe-zones-plan-takes-effect-midnight-170505185444598.html

Sysia “de-escalation zones” agreed by Russia, Turkey and Iran go into effect — Many questions remain — No clear mechanism to resolve conflict and violations

May 6, 2017

BEIRUT — A deal hammered out by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in mostly opposition-held parts of Syria went into effect Saturday.

The plan is the latest international attempt to reduce violence in the war-ravaged country, and is the first to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria. The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed on to the deal. The armed opposition, instead, was highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy.

The plan, details of which will still be worked out over the next several weeks, went into effect at midnight Friday. There were limited reports of bombing in northern Homs and Hama, two areas expected to be part of the “de-escalation zones,” activists said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

It is not clear how the cease-fire or “de-escalation zones” will be enforced in areas still to be determined in maps to emerge a month from now.

Russian officials said it will be at least another month until the details are worked out and the safe areas established.

In the tangled mess that constitutes Syria’s battlefields, there is much that can go wrong with the plan, agreed on in talks Thursday in Kazakhstan.

There is no clear mechanism to resolve conflict and violations— like most other previous deals struck by backers of the warring sides.

A potential complication to implementing the plan is the crowded airspace over Syria. The deal calls for all aircraft to be banned from flying over the safe zones.

Syrian, Russian, Turkish and U.S.-led coalition aircraft operate in different, sometimes same areas in Syria. It is not yet clear how the new plan would affect flightpaths of U.S.-led coalition warplanes battling Islamic State militants and other radical groups — and whether the American air force would abide by a diminished air space.

Russia and Iran — two of the plan’s three sponsors — are key allies of President Bashar Assad’s government and both are viewed as foreign occupation forces by his opponents. Rebels fighting to topple Assad are enraged by Iran’s role in the deal and blame the Shiite power for fueling the sectarian nature of Syria’s conflict, now in its seventh year.

Turkey, the third sponsor, is a major backer of opposition factions and has also sent troops into northern Syria, drawing the ire of Assad and his government.

Yet troops from the three countries are now expected to secure four safe zones. An official with Russia’s military general staff said other countries may eventually have a role in enforcing the de-escalation areas.

Russian Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told reporters on Friday personnel and formations from Russia, Iran and Turkey will operate checkpoints and observation posts.

He said “security belts” will be created along the borders of the “de-escalation zones” to prevent incidents and fighting between opposing sides. The checkpoints and observation posts will ensure free movement of unarmed civilians and humanitarian aid and will facilitate economic activities, he said.

Rebels have expressed concerns the deal is a prelude to a de facto partitioning of Syria into spheres of influence.

Osama Abo Zayd, a spokesman for the Syrian military factions at the Kazakhstan talks, told The Associated Press it was “incomprehensible” for Iran to act as a guarantor of the deal. A cease-fire is unsustainable in the presence of the Iranian-backed militias in Syria, he said.

“We can’t imagine Iran playing a role of peace,” Abo Zayd said.

The U.S. sent a senior White House official to the Kazakh capital of Astana, where representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran signed the deal, but had no role in the deal.

The idea of armed monitors is a new element — observers deployed in the early years of the Syrian conflict, including U.N. and Arab League observers, were unarmed.

But it’s difficult to imagine how many boots on the ground would be needed to monitor the yet to be mapped areas or how and where exactly Russian, Iranian and Turkish troops would patrol.

“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.

Lund said that from the outside, the agreement “does not look like it has great chances of success” and seems to “lack a clear mechanism to resolve conflicting claims and interpretations.”

Late on Friday, a Syrian opposition coalition, the High Negotiations Committee, denounced the deal in a strongly worded statement. The Western, Saudi-backed HNC said the deal lacks legitimacy and seeks to divide the country.

The HNC also said the deal was an attempt to give Syrian government troops military victories they could not achieve on the battleground by neutralizing rebel-held areas. It called on the U.S. and other Arab allied countries, to prevent the implementation of the deal.

A rebel commander in northern Hama said nearly an hour after the deal went into effect, battles raged with government forces. The area, south of Latamneh, is expected to be part of the deal. Jamil al-Saleh, the commander, said government shelling was intense amid an attempt to advance in the area, scene to fierce battles for weeks. “What deal?” he scoffed.

A previous cease-fire agreement signed in Astana on Dec. 30 helped reduce overall violence in Syria for several weeks but eventually collapsed. Other attempts at a cease-fire in Syria have all ended in failure.

The “de-escalation zones” will be closed to military aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition, the Russian official who signed the agreement, Alexander Lavrentye, said Friday. Under the plan, Assad’s air force — and presumably Russian, too — would also halt flights over those areas.

In rebel-held Idlib, a protest was held Friday against the plan, denounced as a plot to “divide Syria.”

“Any person or state who enters this land to divide it is the enemy of the Syrian people” activist Abed al-Basset Sarout told the crowd.

The Pentagon said the de-escalation agreement would not affect the U.S.-led air campaign against IS.

Another question left unanswered is how the deal would affect U.S. airstrikes targeting al-Qaida’s positions in Syria.

U.S. warplanes have frequently struck the al-Qaida affiliate in the northern Idlib province, where the militant group dominates. But under Thursday’s deal, the entire province is designated to be one of the four “de-escalation zones.”

Syria’s government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting “terrorism” wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.

___

Berry reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Jim Heintz in Moscow and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Syrian armed opposition to return to Astana peace talks

May 4, 2017

Reuters

The Syrian armed opposition will return on Thursday to the talks on settling the Syrian conflict which are being held in the Kazakh capital Astana, RIA news agency quoted a source close to the negotiations as saying.

A diplomatic source told Reuters in Astana that the rebel delegation had not yet arrived at the venue.

The Syrian armed opposition said on Wednesday it had suspended its participation in the peace talks and demanded an end to government bombing of areas under its control.

(writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Denis Pinchuk; reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Denis Pinchuk)

Russian-backed Syria talks derailed as rebels boycott

March 14, 2017
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By Maria Tsvetkova and Raushan Nurshayeva | MOSCOW/ASTANA
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Russian-led peace talks on Syria were derailed on Tuesday as rebels backed by Turkey boycotted a third round of meetings in Kazakhstan and the Kremlin indicated there were international divisions over the process.

Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally, said the rebels’ reasons for staying away were unconvincing and their decision came as a surprise. Describing the rebels as Turkish proxies, the Syrian government envoy said Ankara had broken “its commitments” to the Astana process.

The rebels said on Tuesday they would not attend the talks, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, because of what they called Russia’s unwillingness to end air strikes on rebel-held areas and its failure to get the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militia to abide by a ceasefire.

Russia has sought to revive diplomacy over Syria since its air force helped government forces defeat rebel groups in eastern Aleppo in December, Assad’s biggest victory of the war.

The cooperation of Turkey, one of the main backers of rebel groups fighting in northern Syria, has been crucial to the Russian diplomatic effort, helping to broker a ceasefire in December after the rebels’ Aleppo defeat.

Two previous rounds of Astana talks have sought to consolidate that ceasefire, reflecting an improvement in Russian-Turkish ties that had been strained to breaking point by the Syrian war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian Defence Ministry was in touch with Syrian rebel leaders who boycotted the talks, the Interfax news agency reported. He said Russia was dealing with the situation.

The Kremlin spokesman described the talks as hugely complex. “Sometimes the situation at these talks is really complicated because of substantial differences in approaches of various countries,” Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call.

SYRIAN ENVOY ACCUSES TURKEY

Russian President Vladimir Putin had credited the Kazakhstan talks, which focus on reducing the fighting, with jumpstarting U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva seeking a political settlement to the six-year conflict.

The Geneva talks broke off without any progress as seemingly unbridgeable divisions persist, chiefly over the future of Assad who seems militarily unassailable in the areas of western Syria under government control.

The previous Astana talks had been attended by rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner. A spokesman for the rebels on Monday accused Russia of “continuing its crimes” against civilians in Syria – a reference to Russian air strikes – and of supporting “the crimes of the Syrian regime”.

The spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which groups armed and political opponents of Assad, suggested the rebels could yet go to Astana, though the decision was so far not to. “They are waiting to hear a response from Russia, but until this moment nothing came,” Salem al-Muslat told the al-Hadath news channel in an interview.

The rebels say Russia has failed to live up to its commitments as a guarantor of the ceasefire, saying government and allied forces continue to press attacks on remaining rebel-held areas in western Syria.

The Syrian government envoy to the talks said his delegation was in Astana to meet Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies, not the rebel factions.

“When one of the three guarantors breaks their commitment – and I mean Turkey – this means that Turkey must be the one that is asked about the non-attendance or participation of these armed groups,” Bashar al Ja’afari, the envoy, said in broadcast remarks from Astana.

Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was in Moscow seeking to build cooperation with Putin over military operations in Syria.

Turkey is attempting to create a border “safe zone” in northern Syria free of Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia. The Russian-backed Syrian army has advanced to the frontier of YPG-held areas, but is not fighting the Kurds.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Dominic Evans)

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Syria Government Says Turkey Breaks Commitments as Rebels Boycott Talks

March 14, 2017

BEIRUT — The Syrian government accused Turkey of breaking its commitments to peace talks as Ankara-backed rebel groups boycotted a third round of meetings due to begin in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

The Astana talks were launched in January with support from Russia and Iran which back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, one of the main backers of the opposition.

“When one of the three guarantors breaks their commitment – and I mean Turkey – this means that Turkey must be one that is asked about the non-attendance or participation of these armed groups,” Bashar al Ja’afari, the Syrian government envoy, said in broadcast remarks from Astana.

The Syrian opposition said it would not attend the talks because of what it called Russia’s unwillingness to end air strikes against civilians and its failure to put pressure on the Syrian army to abide by a widely violated ceasefire.

Ja’afari said the Syrian government had gone to Astana to meet its Iranian and Russian allies, not the armed opposition groups, and “to show the Syrian government’s seriousness” in engaging in the Astana process.

Ja’afari said the non-attendance of the armed groups served “the view of the government of Syria and showed the political deficiency of these armed groups”. He added that the rebels’ decision on whether to attend or not was taken not by them, but by “their operators”.

(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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