The text of the “Memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in Syria”

Here is the text of the “Memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in Syria”

The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey as guarantors of the observance of the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereinafter referred to as “Guarantors”):

guided by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2254 (2015);

reaffirming their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic;

expressing their determination to decrease the level of military tensions and to provide for the security of civilians in the Syrian Arab Republic,

have agreed on the following.

1. the following de-escalation areas shall be created with the aim to put a prompt end to violence, improve the humanitarian situation and create favorable conditions to advance political settlement of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic:

Idlib province and certain parts of the neighbouring provinces (Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces);

certain parts in the north of Homs province;

in eastern Ghouta;

certain parts of southern Syria (Deraa and Al-Quneitra provinces).

The creation of the de-escalation areas and security zones is a temporary measure, the duration of which will initially be 6 months and will be automatically extended on the basis of consensus of the Guarantors.

2. Within the lines of the de-escalation areas:

hostilities between the conflicting parties (the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition groups that have joined and will join the ceasefire regime) with the use of any kinds of weapons, including aerial assets, shall be ceased;

rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access shall be provided;

conditions to deliver medical aid to local population and to meet basic needs of civilians shall be created;

measures to restore basic infrastructure facilities, starting with water supply and electricity distribution networks, shall be taken;

conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons shall be created.

3. Along the lines of the de-escalation areas, security zones shall be established in order to prevent incidents and military confrontations between the conflicting parties.

4. The security zones shall include:

– Checkpoints to ensure unhindered movement of unarmed civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as to facilitate economic activities;

– Observation posts to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ceasefire regime.

The functioning of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as the administration of the security zones shall be ensured by the forces of the Guarantors by consensus. Third parties might be deployed, if necessary, by consensus of the Guarantors.

5. The Guarantors shall:

take all necessary measures to ensure the fulfillment by the conflicting parties of the ceasefire regime;

take all necessary measures to continue the fight against DAESH/ISIL, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL as designated by the UN Security Council within and outside the de-escalation areas;

continue efforts to include in the ceasefire regime armed opposition groups that have not yet joined the ceasefire regime.

6. The Guarantors shall in 2 weeks after signing the Memorandum form a Joint working group on de-escalation (hereinafter referred to as the “Joint Working Group”) composed of their authorized representatives in order to delineate the lines of the de-escalation areas and security zones as well as to resolve other operational and technical issues related to the implementation of the Memorandum.

The Guarantors shall take steps to complete by 4 June 2017 the preparation of the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones and to separate the armed opposition groups from the terrorist groups mentioned in para.5 of the Memorandum.

The Joint Working Group shall prepare by the above-mentioned date the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones to be agreed by consensus of the Guarantors as well as the draft Regulation of the Joint Working Group.

The Joint Working Group shall report on its activities to the high-level international meetings on Syria held in Astana.

The present Memorandum enters into force the next day after its signing.

Done in Astana, 4 May 2017 in three copies in English, having equal legal force.

Signatures

Islamic Republic of Iran   Russian Federation   Republic of Turkey

Source: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Rebels reject Syria ‘de-escalation zones’ plan

Syria’s armed opposition on Thursday rejected Russia’s plan to create ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria, calling it a threat to the country’s territorial integrity, and said it would also not recognize Iran as a guarantor of any ceasefire plan. Turkey, which supports Syrian rebels, and Iran, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, agreed earlier in the day to Russia’s proposal for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations but met with scepticism from the United States.

“We want Syria to maintain its integrity,” opposition delegate Osama Abu Zaid said after Russia, Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum on creating safe zones. The three countries are sponsoring talks in the Kazakh capital Astana aimed at ending Syria’s fighting. “We are against the division of Syria. As for the agreements, we are not a party to that agreement and of course we will never be in favor (of it) as long as Iran is called a guarantor state,” Abu Zaid said. He also cited what he called “a huge gap” between the promises of Russia, which intervened militarily in 2015 on Assad’s side and gave him back the upper hand in the conflict. “We have an agreement already (in) our hands, why isn’t it implemented?” he said, referring to a truce deal announced by Russia in December that was largely ignored on the ground. “Why are we jumping now to safe zones?” “Russia was not able to or does not want to implement the pledges it makes, and this is a fundamental problem.”

Russia, Turkey and Iran did not immediately publish the memorandum, leaving its details unclear. But the safe zones appear intended to be conflict-free to help widen a ceasefire, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was skeptical of Iran’s involvement as a guarantor of the accord and Damascus’ track record on previous agreements. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he was encouraged by the proposal but cautioned it must “actually improve the lives of Syrians.” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said while on a visit to Washington, D.C., that the kingdom supported creation of safe zones but he wanted to see more details. Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said that under the plan Russia could send observers to safe zones. He said third-party monitors could be invited provided Iran and Turkey agreed.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/Reuters

Russia, US and UN meeting on Syria scheduled for April 24 in Geneva: Tass

A trilateral meeting between Russia, the United States and the United Nations on Syria is scheduled to take place in Geneva on April 24, Russia’s semi-official Tass agency reports.’The meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 24 and Russia is expected to be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov‘, agency’s source noted.

Earlier on Monday, Russia’s special envoy Syria Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in Moscow that the meeting on Syria could be held in Geneva early next week, Washington’s confirmation is expected. “The tripartite meeting of Russia, the United States and the United Nations in Geneva is planned, we are waiting for confirmation from our American colleagues,” the Russian diplomat said, adding that the talks could be held at the beginning of the next week at deputy foreign ministers or department directors level.

The United Nations building in Geneva [archive photo]
Source: Syria & Iraq News/Tass

U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on ‘getting Assad out’: Ambassador Haley

The United States’ diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration’s initial and public stance on Assad’s fate.

The view of the Trump administration is also at odds with European powers, who insist Assad must step down. The shift drew a strong rebuke from at least two Republican senators. “You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters. “Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No,” she said. “What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria.” “We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did,” said Haley, a former governor of South Carolina. “Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.” On Wednesday, Haley accused Russia, Iran and the “Assad regime” of committing war crimes. She has also said the United States supports the U.N.-led Syria peace talks, that Syria could no longer be a “safe haven for terrorists” and that it was important “we get Iran and their proxies out.”

In Ankara on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad’s longer-term status “will be decided by the Syrian people.”

A senior Trump administration official told Reuters that Haley’s remarks reflected “a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground. … Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country. … Our focus is on defeating ISIS and al Qaeda and preventing Syria from being used as a terrorist safe haven.” But Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, in separate, strongly worded statements, denounced the shift in the U.S. stance. McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tillerson’s statement “overlooks the tragic reality that the Syrian people cannot decide the fate of Assad or the future of their country when they are being slaughtered” by Assad’s military, Russia’s air force and Iranian-backed militias. “I hope President Trump will make clear that America will not follow this self-destructive and self-defeating path,” McCain said, adding that U.S. allies could fear a bargain with Assad and Russia “sealed with an empty promise of counterterrorism cooperation.”

Graham, who like McCain is a foreign policy hawk and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said it would be a “grave mistake” to drop the removal of Assad as an objective, and would be crushing news to the Syrian opposition and U.S. allies in the region. In addition, leaving Assad in power is “a great reward for Russia and Iran,” Graham said.

Contradictory messages

Syrian opposition member Farah al-Attasi said the State Department and the White House were sending contradictory messages on Syria and should start leading and not focus exclusively on fighting Islamic State.

Britain and France reinforced their stance on Assad earlier on Thursday. French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters: “Assad is not and cannot be the future of his country.”

Robert Ford, who resigned in 2014 as U.S. ambassador to Syria over policy disagreements, said the U.S. government’s policy since late 2014 had been to focus more specifically on the fight against Islamic State as well as al Qaeda, “even if it never acknowledged that its focus on Syria had shifted.” “Ambassador Haley’s remarks just confirm that the Trump administration is following the same path,” said Ford, who is now a fellow at the Middle East Institute and senior fellow at Yale.

Russia announces ceasefire in Syria starting at midnight on Thursday

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire between Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government starting at midnight on Thursday. The parties were also prepared to start peace talks, Putin said, after Moscow, Iran and Turkey expressed readiness to broker a deal to settle the nearly six-year-old Syrian war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin, December 29, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin, December 29, 2016

The Syrian army announced a nationwide halt to fighting but said Islamic State and ex-Nusra Front militants and all groups linked to them would be excluded from the deal. It did not say which unnamed groups would be excluded. Several rebel officials told Reuters they had agreed to the ceasefire, due to come into effect at 2200 GMT on Thursday.

It was the third nationwide ceasefire agreed in Syria this year. The previous two, negotiated by Washington and Moscow, collapsed within weeks as warring sides accused each other of violations. The current deal does not involve the United States or United Nations. One rebel commander expressed optimism that this deal would hold: “This time I have confidence in its seriousness. There is new international input,” he said, without elaborating.

Talks on the latest truce picked up momentum after Russia, Iran and Turkey last week said they were ready to back a peace deal and adopted a declaration setting out principles that any agreement should adhere to.

Putin said opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents, including the ceasefire, measures to monitor the truce, and a statement on readiness to start peace talks. “The agreements reached are, of course, fragile, need a special attention and involvement… But after all, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defense and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said. He also said Russia had agreed to reduce its military deployment in Syria, where its support has turned the tide in favor of President Bashar al-Assad in a war that has killed more than 300,000 and forced more than 11 million to flee their homes.

Turkey said it and Russia would guarantee the ceasefire. “With this agreement, parties have agreed to cease all armed attacks, including aerial, and have promised not to expand the areas they control against each other,” the Turkish foreign ministry said.

Three rebel officials told Reuters the deal excluded Islamic State, but did include the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, formerly al Qaeda’s Syria branch, the Nusra Front – appearing to contradict the Syrian army’s statement.

Russia’s defence ministry said the insurgent groups that signed the agreement included the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, which operates primarily near Damascus, and Jabha Shamiya, one of the main groups that has operated in Aleppo.

Washington sidelined

The United States has been sidelined in recent negotiations and is not due to attend the next round of peace talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, a key Russian ally. Its exclusion reflects growing frustration from both Turkey and Russia over Washington’s policy on Syria, officials have said. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States could join the peace process once President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. Talks on the ceasefire reflect the complexity of Syria’s civil war, with an array of groups and foreign interests involved on all sides. Turkey and Russia support different sides in the war. Ankara has insisted on the departure of Assad, who is backed by Russia.

Likewise, demands that troops from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement leave Syria may not please Iran, another major supporter of Assad. Hezbollah troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces against rebels opposed to Assad. “All foreign fighters need to leave Syria. Hezbollah needs to return to Lebanon,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Sources have told Reuters that, under an outline deal between the three countries, Syria could be divided into informal zones of regional power and Assad would remain president for at least a few years.

Meanwhile, disagreements remain between big powers. Ankara supports the Free Syrian Army, a loose alliance of rebel groups, some of which it is backing in operations in northern Syria designed to sweep Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish fighters from its southern border. The United States is backing the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, a move that has infuriated Turkey, which sees the YPG as an extension of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Ankara fears that advances by Kurdish fighters in Syria could inflame militants at home.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the United States of supporting terrorism in Syria, including Islamic State, comments that Washington has dismissed as “ludicrous”. “We, as Turkey, have been calling on Western nations for some time to not distinguish between terrorist organizations and to be principled and consistent in their stance,” Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday. “Some countries, namely the United States, have come up with some excuses on their own and overtly supported the organisations that massacre innocent people in our region.”

Sources: Reuters/Syria & Iraq News

 

Turkey, Russia agree on ceasefire plan for Syria: Turkish official

Turkey and Russia have agreed to a proposal for a ceasefire in Syria, Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu reported on Wednesday quoting an unnamed Turkish official.

The plan is expected to be carried out in all areas where the Syrian army and the opposition are fighting, said the official, adding that under the plan, Ankara and Moscow will work for the ceasefire to come into force at midnight on Wednesday and that terrorist organizations will be excluded from the deal. According to Anadolu’s source the proposal is planned to be presented to the Syrian government for ‘consideration’ and if the cease-fire succeeds, political negotiations will start in the capital of Kazakhstan under Turkey and Russia’s guidance.

Civil defense team members carry out search and rescue works on the debris of the collapsed buildings after the war crafts belonging to the Syrian Army carried out airstrikes on the opposition controlled residential areas in Saqba town in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on November 24, 2016
Civil defense team members carry out search and rescue works on the debris of the collapsed buildings after the war crafts belonging to the Syrian Army carried out airstrikes on the opposition controlled residential areas in Saqba town in the Eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on November 24, 2016 [photo by Anadolu]

It was reported on Tuesday that a key sticking point in the Russian-Turkish negotiations is East Ghouta, an area near Damascus that the Syrian government wants to exclude from any ceasefire agreement. Anadolu report did not mention whether the agreement includes East Ghouta too.

Update 1 — 28/12/2016 12:30 GMT | Kremlin not aware of reported Moscow-Ankara agreement on Syrian ceasefire: spokesman

The Kremlin is not aware of any agreement between Russia and Turkey on a ceasefire in Syria, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. “I cannot answer this question, I do not have enough information,” Peskov said, when asked to comment on Turkish media reports that Moscow and Ankara had reached a consensus on a new ceasefire in Syria.

Update 2 — 28/12/2016 13:15 GMT | UN’s de Mistura backs Syria initiative of Russia, Iran, Turkey: Russian Foreign Ministry

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura supports efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to achieve a ceasefire in Syria and organize new Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. In a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, de Mistura backed the results of the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran held in Moscow on December 20, the ministry said.

Sources: Syria & Iraq News/Anadolu/Russia Today

Kerry and Lavrov talk about Aleppo, while the rebels announce major assault to break siege

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced concern to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday about renewed fighting and air strikes in the Syrian city of Aleppo after a break of several days, the State Department said.

Lavrov and Kerry discussed the situation in Syria in a phone call and agreed that experts from several countries meeting in Geneva would continue searching for ways to resolve the Aleppo crisis, the State Department and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov told Kerry the United States must fulfil its obligation to separate moderate opposition groups from “terrorists” in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ruusian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint press conference in Geneva [10/9/2016]

The geographic proximity between moderate Syrian rebels and groups considered terrorist by Russia and the United States was one factor in the failure last month of a ceasefire negotiated by Moscow and Washington.

“They talked about the importance of the continued multilateral discussions in Geneva and how … to get a meaningful cessation of hostilities and the delivery of humanitarian aid,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of Kerry and Lavrov. During the call, Kerry expressed concern about the renewal of air strikes and ground attacks in Aleppo by Syrian government forces and their Russian supporters after a pause in the fighting for several days, Kirby said. He noted that humanitarian aid had still not made it through to people under siege in Aleppo, despite the pause in fighting.

Asked whether the multilateral talks on Syria in Geneva had made progress, Kirby said only that the dialogue was “ongoing” and he had nothing further to report.

SAA and Hezbollah capture Bazo hill in SW Aleppo

Syrian government forces and their allies on Monday captured strategic high ground in embattled Aleppo as Russia — a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad — said it was not planning more “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in the city’s eastern, rebel-held districts.

Fighting resumed in Aleppo over the weekend, following a days-long lull announced by Moscow that was meant to allow rebels and civilians to leave the eastern districts. The rebels rejected the Russian offer and none of the civilians left.

Government troops launched a fresh offensive and on Monday took the hilltop of Bazo on the southern edge of Aleppo, near military bases, and shelled the rebel neighborhoods, according to opposition activists. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Bazo was taken amid heavy bombardment. Both the Observatory and the Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported government shelling in eastern parts of the city.

A video released by the Syrian army showed tanks and cannons pounding rebel positions in the area. The state SANA news agency, meanwhile, said the rebels shelled government-held neighborhoods in western Aleppo, killing one person and wounding seven.

The rebels announce major assault to break Aleppo siege

A pro-opposition media outlet circulated footage of a powerful and hard-line Islamist rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah announcing that the campaign to break the government’s siege of the city’s east would begin “within hours.”

Syrian troops have besieged rebel-held parts of Aleppo for weeks, subjecting the districts to some of the worst air raids since a cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia collapsed on Sept. 19. Opposition activists say more than 600 people have been killed in Aleppo and neighboring villages since then.

Jaish al-Fatah commander Ali Abu Odai al-Aloush told the Qasioun News Agency that “zero hour has drawn near,” and that his militants had begun moving toward Aleppo. It was unclear when the interview was recorded.

A spokesman for the Nour el-Din al-Zinki rebel faction in Aleppo said an operation to break the government’s siege of the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo was “coming.” The spokesman, Yasser al-Yousef, said the rebels would not intentionally target civilians in Aleppo’s government-held districts, but warned of collateral damage from the anticipated operations.

Rebels shell West Aleppo, 3 people killed

Three people have been killed, including a seven-year-old girl, and 28 more injured after militants shelled residential areas of government-held West Aleppo on Sunday, according to Russia Today reporter Murad Gazdiev. The attacks, which targeted West Aleppo’s Hamdaniya district and Salah-Eddin neighborhood, lasted for hours, Gazdiev said, citing his sources on the ground.

 

Sources: Reuters/Associated Press/Russia Today/Syria & Iraq News