Syria: Russia, Turkey, Iran agree on safe zones at ceasefire talks

Syrians evacuate children from rubble after February airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Story highlights

  • The plan, put forward by Russia, envisions four de-escalation zones in key areas of Syria
  • The Syrian government has said it supports the proposal, state media reported

(CNN)Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed Thursday to create four de-escalation zones in Syria, Russian and Turkish state media reported, in the latest effort to resolve that country's six-year conflict.

All three countries are sponsors of the latest round of ceasefire talks underway in Astana, Kazakhstan, and a largely ignored ceasefire that was signed late last year. Russia and Iran are both key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports Syrian opposition forces.
    The preliminary agreement, signed in Astana, was put forward by Russia and would create security zones in Idlib province, to the north of the city of Homs, in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, and in the south of Syria, Russian state-run Sputnik news agency reported.
    UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, left, and Russian mediator Alexander Lavrentyev confer Thursday.
    A working group will later decide "boundaries of disarmament, areas of tension and security areas, as well as to address technical issues related to the implementation of the memorandum," Sputnik said, citing the signed document. The Russian agency said maps demarcating the areas in question would be completed by May 22.
    Such zones -- also referred to as non-conflict or safe zones -- are meant to be areas where civilians can live without being targeted by any party in Syria's war. However, key issues would involve whether and how the zones would be enforced.
    Syria's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it accepted the Russian proposal to create de-escalation zones, vowing not to shell these areas in compliance with the December ceasefire agreement.
    But Osama Abu Zeid, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told reporters Thursday in Astana that the Syrian armed opposition rejected any agreement that would divide the country.

    Ceasefire violations claimed

    Abu Zeid also insisted any ceasefire agreement should apply to the entire Syrian territory, saying the Hama area remains under attack by regime forces.
    The armed opposition suspended its participation in the peace talks Wednesday, citing continued regime violations of the ceasefire agreement signed in December. The opposition groups staged a walkout during Thursday's discussion in objection to the agreement, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported.
    Abu Zeid said Russia had failed as a guarantor of the ceasefire agreement. "Russia doesn't want to and can't keep its vows," he told reporters.
    "We are taking part in negotiations, not to make concessions, but to achieve what we've tried to achieve with arms. If we can't, we will go back to armament."
    The Syrian Foreign Ministry said regime forces would continue fighting terrorists from ISIS and al Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria, al Nusra Front, according to a statement carried by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
    An opposition fighter fires a  machine gun in Jobar, a rebel-held district outside Damascus, in March.