Russia says Syria de-escalation deal to take effect at midnight: agencies
A de-escalation agreement in Syria will come into force from midnight tonight but Russia's air force will continue strikes against Islamic State elsewhere in the country, Russian news agencies cited the Defence Ministry as saying on Friday, APA reports quoting Reuters.
The first and largest of the zones in northern Syria will include Idlib province and adjoining districts of Latakia, Aleppo and Hama with a total population of over 1 million, the ministry said.
Iran and Turkey agreed on Thursday to a Russian proposal to establish the de-escalation zones but details remain sketchy.
The zones appear intended to halt conflict in specific areas between government forces and rebels, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops.
The fact that the de-escalation agreement was supported by the United Nations, the United States and Saudi Arabia guaranteed its implementation, the RIA and Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin as saying.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters the U.S.-led coalition in Syria had not altered operations in Syria, but declined to comment on the de-escalation zones.
With the help of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand against rebel groups, including some supported by Turkey, the U.S. and Gulf monarchies.
The government supported the de-escalation plan, but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups.
Rebels have rejected the deal and said they would not recognize Iran as a guarantor of any ceasefire plan.
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.
"As long as the jets are bombing civilians, then there are no signs of any ceasefire," Rasheed said. "When they stop, then we can work on political solutions."
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