ASTANA: Russia, Turkey and Iran have agreed to set up de-escalation zones in Syria for six months, negotiators for the three countries have said in a joint statement during the sixth round of talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
The zones will include, fully or partly, Eastern Ghouta and the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama, according to a statement issued on Friday.
The six-month term may be extended in the future.
The plan calls for the cessation of hostilities between anti-government groups and forces fighting on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad in four so-called de-escalation zones in mainly opposition-held areas of the country, with Russia, Turkey and Iran to act as guarantors.
The statement said representatives from the three countries were still discussing what forces to deploy in Idlib, which is under the control of an alliance spearheaded by the former al-Qaeda offshoot, al-Nusra Front.
“Delegations from Turkey, Russia and Iran determined the borders of a fourth de-escalation zone that will be established in Idlib province in talks yesterday and today,” Anadolu news agency said, citing sources attending the meetings in Astana.
The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the creation of a fourth de-escalation zone is a positive development.
“We really welcome this agreement today because we have always been pushing for de-escalation,” he said.
“This is what the people of Syria have been asking and the fact of adding new areas to this de-escalation is crucial,” Mistura added. “It already has reduced fighting in many areas.”
Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said in an unsourced report on Friday that the three countries planned to divide the Idlib region in three, with Turkish forces and opposition fighters in the northwest region bordering Turkey.
It said Iranian and Syrian army forces would be deployed to the southeast, with Russian forces in between those two zones.
Though the plan for de-escalation zones was signed by Syrian-government backers Iran and Russia in May, diplomats failed to hammer out the details over boundaries and policing during the last round of Astana talks in July.
The deal laid out the areas where fighters and government forces should halt hostilities, including air raids, for six months. More than 2.5 million people are believed to live in the zones.
This is the first plan to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria.
Troops from the three countries are expected to help to secure the safe zones.
Russia will continue to fly over the areas but refrain from conducting air raids.
The Syrian regime is to allow “unhindered” humanitarian aid into opposition-held areas, and public services such as electricity and water are to be restored where they have been cut off.