Russia, Iran, Turkey to police Idlib safe zone
Astana, Kazakhstan - Russia, Iran and Turkey struck a deal on Friday to jointly police a fourth safe zone around Syria's Idlib province as part of a Moscow-led plan to ease the six-year conflict.
In a joint statement after two days of talks in Kazakhstan, the three powers said they agreed ‘to allocate’ their forces to patrol the zone covering the rebel-held Idlib province and parts of the neighbouring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo regions.
Regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey agreed in May to set four ‘de-escalation zones’ in rebel-held territory around Syria to halt fighting between the government and moderate opposition.
Since then Russia has forged ahead with establishing three of the zones on the ground by deploying military police to patrol the boundaries of safe areas in the south of Syria, in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, and in part of the central Homs province.
However, the three powers had struggled to agree the details of the final zone around Idlib on the border with Turkey, as Ankara and Tehran vied to expand their influence.
Idlib was captured in 2015 by an alliance of extremists and rebels and remains beyond the government control.
Friday’s statement said that Russian, Iranian and Turkish forces would be deployed according to maps agreed earlier this month in Ankara, the Turkish capital, but gave no further details of their exact positions or the timing.
Russia’s chief negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev hailed the deal as the ‘final stage’ in the creation of the four safe zones.
Nevertheless, Lavrentyev, acknowledged there remains a ‘long journey ahead to strengthen trust’ between Assad’s government and the armed opposition.
Regime representative Bashar al Jaafari said Damascus ‘supports any initiative in Syria that stops the shedding of Syrian blood and decreases suffering’.
A statement on its Facebook page said that the armed opposition noted that no ‘monitoring mechanism’ had been agreed for the new zone in Idlib.
“(Bashar) Assad’s forces or militias will not be present in any area or part of the de-escalation zones and will not have a role in our liberated zones,” the statement said.
On the ground the zones have already seen fighting drop and allowed Damascus and Moscow to turn more of their firepower against the IS.
The participants agreed to a fresh round of talks in Astana in October.