Russia, Iran and Turkey have agreed to a plan to de-escalate the Syrian war in a deal reached last Thursday, Russian media agencies report.
Setting up a series of ceasefire zones to halt fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel militants, the plan will cover the Idlib province, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama in the north, as well as East Ghouta and other areas in Southern Syria. Combined, the zones will encompass around 1 million people, the Russian Ministry of Defense said. The deal will be implemented tonight at midnight.
Supporting the Syrian government in the war are Iran-backed militias, along with Russian ground troops and air power, whose assistance has given the regime an upper hand on the battlefield.
A spokesman for Jaish al-Nasr, a rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters the Russians were “merely playing political games” and “making declarations.” He said rebels were skeptical of the deal after several prior ceasefires met failure.
Some details of the plan remain ambiguous, with exemptions made on air strikes carried out against the Islamic State and what the Syrian regime terms “terrorist groups.” It is not clear which rebel groups fall into that category. Foreign soldiers may also be deployed to police the ceasefire zones and enforce the agreement, possibly complicating the situation further.
Some analysts are cautiously optimistic about the deal, however, as it represents a change in the Syrian-Russian approach. “If a potential negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict exists, something in the spirit of Russia’s plan for decentralization and ceasefires might be it,” wrote Alexander Decina, a research associate on Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign relations, in an article for Defense One.
“Alternatives to this are untenable. The long-held Western, Gulf, and opposition approach — pressuring Assad to negotiate his own departure — is unrealistic,” Decina added.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis refused to comment on the plan at a press briefing, but said there would be no change in U.S. operations in Syria.
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