U.S.-led coalition aircraft won’t be allowed in Syrian safe zones, Russia says

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The de-escalation zones to be established in Syria will be closed to military aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition, the Russian official who signed the new agreement said Friday.

Alexander Lavrentyev spoke a day after he and officials from Turkey and Iran agreed to establish the zones, in the latest attempt to reduce violence in the Arab country.

Under the Russian plan, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force would halt flights over the designated areas across the war-torn country.

Lavrentyev suggested that all military aircraft, including Russian and Turkish, also were prohibited. The same was suggested in a UN statement, which said Secretary General Antonio Guterres “welcomes the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets.”

Full details of Thursday’s agreement have not yet been released. The Russian Defence Ministry said it would do so at a briefing later Friday.

Lavrentyev, whose remarks were carried by Russian news agencies, said “the operation of aviation in the de-escalation zones, especially of the forces of the international coalition, is absolutely not envisaged, either with notification or without. This question is closed.

He said the U.S.-led coalition aircraft would still be able to operate against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in specific areas.

As the agreement was being signed in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, some members of the Syrian opposition delegation shouted in protest and walked out of the conference room.

The opposition was protesting Iran’s participation at the conference and its role as a guarantor of the agreement, accusing it of fuelling the sectarian nature of the conflict that has resulted in the death of some 400,000 people and displaced half the country’s population.

Previous ceasefire collapsed

The Syrian government has said that although it will abide by the agreement, it would continue fighting “terrorism” wherever it exists, parlance for most armed rebel groups fighting government troops.

A previous ceasefire agreement signed in Astana on Dec. 30 helped reduce overall violence for several weeks but eventually collapsed. Other attempts at a ceasefire in Syria have ended in failure.

Sponsors of the deal hope that safe zones would bring relief for hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians and encourage refugees to return. But officials have expressed skepticism, stressing that safe zones have not had an encouraging track record.

Alaska meeting

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will discuss the de-escalation zones when they meet in Alaska this month, Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov’s deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov, as saying on Friday.

Lavrov and Tillerson earlier agreed to hold talks during an Arctic Council event in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10 and 11.

Source: CBC.ca

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