Syria 'safe zones' come into effect but fighting continues

Fighting subsided in Syria on Saturday after a deal signed by government backers Russian Federation and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey to create four safe zones began to take effect, a monitor said.

Russia, Iran and Turkey serve as guarantors of the arrangement, which carries hopes of deescalating violence in the war-torn country.

The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed up to the deal.

The four zones are only safe for the so-called armed opposition factions and exclude the Takfiri terrorist groups of Daesh and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.

A deal to establish "de-escalation" zones in Syria went into effect at midnight Friday (2100 UTC).

The memorandum on de-escalation zones took effect on May 6. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The plan specifies that a six-month renewable truce will begin on Saturday and that Assad's air force will halt all flights over the de-escalation areas.

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.

The Syrian government supported the implementation of the safe zones in the country and confirmed its commitment to fighting terrorism.

Russian Federation says maps delineating the zones should be ready by June 4.

The four areas include key territory held by anti-Assad forces.

Shelling and gunfire was heard in rebel-held areas of Hama province, with one opposition website reporting an air strike in the area.

"Russia must ensure that the Syrian regime, unlike its stance in the past, will now implement the agreement, particularly in terms of flight bans and unhindered humanitarian access", he said.

As part of the deal, US-led coalition jets in Syria will not be allowed to fly over the zones, the head of Russia's delegation to the Syrian peace talks, Alexander Lavrentyev, said in comments carried Friday by state media.

"The United States itself has proposed to stop violence in the areas hit by the most severe clashes between the [Syrian] government and [the country's] armed opposition in order to create conditions for the safety of civilians".

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters the US -led coalition in Syria had not altered its operations, but declined to comment on the de-escalation zones.

He also cited what he called "a huge gap" between the promises of Russian Federation, which intervened militarily in 2015 on Assad's side and gave him back the upper hand in the conflict. The opposition strongly rejects the idea that Iran can play a role in a cease-fire, accusing the Shiite-majority country of fueling the sectarian nature of the conflict and orchestrating population swaps that amount to demographic change.

  • Larry Hoffman