Syr­ian army says fight­ing has halted near Da­m­as­cus

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

DA­M­AS­CUS/TE­HERAN — Syria’s army an­nounced on Satur­day a halt in fight­ing in parts of East­ern Ghouta af­ter rebels and ally Rus­sia agreed on how a safe zone will func­tion for the be­sieged op­po­si­tion en­clave.

With many of its towns and vil­lages rav­aged by bom­bard­ments in the six-year con­flict, East­ern Ghouta near Da­m­as­cus is one of the last strongholds of rebels fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s gov­ern­ment.

East­ern Ghouta is in one of four pro­posed “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” des­ig­nated in an agree­ment reached by Iran, Rus­sia and Turkey in May.

But the deal has yet to be fully im­ple­mented over dis­agree­ments on who would po­lice the safe zones, and East­ern Ghouta is just the se­cond zone to see a cease­fire en­ter into force.

The army “an­nounces a halt in fight­ing in some ar­eas of East­ern Ghouta in Da­m­as­cus prov­ince from mid­day on Satur­day (0900 GMT)”, it said in a state­ment.

“The army will re­tal­i­ate in a suit­able man­ner to any vi­o­la­tion” of the cease­fire, the state­ment said.

Rus­sia said ear­lier on Satur­day it had signed a deal with “moder­ate” Syr­ian rebels at peace talks in Cairo on how a safe zone would func­tion in East­ern Ghouta.

But no rebel group said it had signed the Cairo agree­ment, with one in­flu­en­tial group in the re­gion say­ing it was not in­volved.

The Cairo meet­ing “fol­lows on from the cease­fire deal for the south of Syria” that took hold on July 9, said Wael Al­wan, a spokesman for Fay­laq al-Rah­man.

That cease­fire for south­ern Syria was bro­kered by Rus­sia, the United States and Jor­dan.

Rus­sia said it and the rebels had signed agree­ments un­der which “the bor­ders of the de-es­ca­la­tion zone are de­fined as well as the de­ploy­ment lo­ca­tions and pow­ers of the forces mon­i­tor­ing the de-es­ca­la­tion”.

It said the sides had also agreed “routes to sup­ply hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to the pop­u­la­tion and for free move­ment of res­i­dents”.

The army will re­tal­i­ate in a suit­able man­ner to any vi­o­la­tion.” Syr­ian army state­ment

Rus­sia said it plans to send in the first hu­man­i­tar­ian con­voy and evac­u­ate the wounded “in the next few days”.

The two other “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” in­cluded in the May deal are the rebel-held prov­ince of Idlib and north­ern parts of the cen­tral prov­ince of Homs.

More than 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple live in the four zones.

En­voy hails zones

Chi­nese Spe­cial En­voy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan said that the es­tab­lish­ment of de-es­ca­la­tion zones was an im­por­tant achieve­ment of the re­cent As­tana talks, the fifth round of peace talks on the Syr­ian cri­sis, held on July 12-15 in the Kazakh cap­i­tal.

Xie was speak­ing in Te­heran af­ter meet­ings with Syr­ian and Ira­nian of­fi­cials.

He said that the two coun­tries had em­pha­sized that Syria’s sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity must be pre­served while set­tling the sixyear-long cri­sis. “China agrees with them on this point,” he said.

Dur­ing his visit to Iran, the en­voy held meet­ings with Ira­nian of­fi­cials and ex­perts, and ex­changed views with them on how to solve the Syr­ian cri­sis.

“Iran is an im­por­tant coun­try in the Mid­dle East which has a sig­nif­i­cant and unique in­flu­ence on the Syr­ian is­sue,” he said.

Xie said China has never changed its stance that the Syr­ian cri­sis must be solved po­lit­i­cally, and mean­while, other is­sues, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions, cease­fire, hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and coun­tert­er­ror­ism, should be taken into full ac­count.

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