Syrian army says fighting has halted near Damascus
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.