Negotiators to create safe zones in northern Syria

Diplomats from Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria agreed Thursday to create four “de-escalation” zones in war-torn Syria, though forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad walked out on the deal.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a toxic gas attack by the government against civilians in Khan Sheikhun, in Syria's northwestern Idlib Province, on April 5. Photo by Omar Haj Kadour/UPI | License Photo
A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a toxic gas attack by the government against civilians in Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province, on April 5. Photo by Omar Haj Kadour/UPI | License Photo

The proposal was put forth by the Russians and agreed to by Turkish leaders who are acting as a guarantor for a coalition of forces opposed to the Assad regime. The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, agreed to the deal Thursday, but members of the opposition delegation walked out on the talks rather than sign their agreement, according to state-run media reports from Turkey and Russia.

The agreement would create four zones in northern Syria where fighting would stop by Saturday to provide civilians a place to congregate to escape the violence and receive food and medical attention. The Russian government said it would abide by no-fly zones over the protected areas, though Russian war planes have frequently targeted opposition-held areas for bombing to help prop up Assad’s government during the six-year civil war.
Similarly, the Assad regime vowed it would not shell the safe zones, though previous cease-fire agreements like the one signed in December have been ignored by forces on both sides.

Opposition delegates to the peace talks being held in Kazakhstan said they would not accept a deal that divides the country and instead called on the Assad regime to honor the December cease-fire agreement, which covered the entire country, not just four areas already under rebel control.

Creating cease-fire zones that confine opposition forces to territory already under their control could give the Assad government an advantage in fighting in other parts of the country, they said.

The Syrian government said it would continue military operations in the safe zones against the Islamic State, though in the past the Assad regime has used that reasoning as cover to continue military operations in opposition-held parts of the country.

By Eric DuVall