Syria to Abide By De-Escalation Plan: FM Muallem

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Syria’s foreign minister said on Monday that his government would abide by the terms of a Russian plan for “de-escalation” zones so long as rebels also observed it.

Walid al-Muallem told a televised news conference that rebels involved in the process must help clear areas they control of jihadist factions, including the former Nusra Front, and that the deal’s guarantors must help them do this.

The deal for de-escalation zones was brokered by Russia, with backing from Turkey and Iran, during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week and came into effect at midnight on Friday, but some fighting has continued in those areas.

“It is the duty of the groups which signed the ceasefire agreement to expel Nusra from these zones until the areas really become de-escalated. It is for the guarantors to help these factions,” he said, referring specifically to rebel-held Idlib province as a place where jihadist groups were present, Reuters reported.

Muallem said a separate peace talk process under UN auspices in Geneva was not progressing. Local “reconciliation” deals that the government is pursuing with rebels were an alternative to that, he said.

Such deals have been criticized by the opposition as being imposed on civilians using siege tactics. The United Nations has said the evacuation of some people as part of those agreements is a form of forced displacement.

Muallem said there would be no role for either the United Nations or other “international forces” in the de-escalation zones, but said, without giving further details, that Russia had said military police would play an observer role.

The memorandum signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey last week setting up the de-escalation areas said that the forces of those countries would ensure the administration of security zones by consensus, but did not specifically mention military police.

A spokesman for the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, declined to comment on those remarks.

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