Turkey, Russia and Iran have concluded months-long discussions after agreeing to set up de-escalation zones in four different regions of Syria, including the rebel-held Idlib, for six months, as well as a joint coordination center to monitor the truce between the Syrian regime and moderate opposition groups.
The de-escalation zones will include, fully or partly, Eastern Ghouta, the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama, according to a joint statement issued by the three guarantor countries following the sixth round of Astana process talks in Kazakhstan’s capital on Sept. 15.
Representatives from the Syrian government and opposition groups also attended the meeting.
The statement said the six-month term may be extended in the future on the basis of consensus between the guarantor countries.
“[Russia, Turkey and Iran] emphasize the need for the conflicting parties to take confidence-building measures, including the release of detainees/abductees and the handover of the bodies as well as identification of missing persons, to create better conditions for the political process and lasting ceasefire,” it said.
As part of the agreement, the guarantor countries also decided to form a joint Iranian-Russian-Turkish coordination center aimed at coordinating the activities of de-escalation control forces in the safe zones.
Observers to be deployed
In accordance with the agreement, the three countries will deploy observers across the de-escalation zones. In a written statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed the agreement and said the “observers from these three countries will be deployed at check and observation points in safe zones that form the borders of the de-escalation zone.”
“The main mission of these observers has been defined as the prevention of clashes between the regime and the opposition forces and any violations of the truce,” it added.
Guarantors deploy 500 observers each
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said Russia, Iran and Turkey will send about 500 observers each to Idlib, and the Russians will be military policemen.
He also told reporters that the exact deployment locations of the de-escalation control forces was yet to be determined.
Idlib province, in northwest Syria on the border with Turkey, is largely under the control of a rebel alliance spearheaded by the former al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, speaking in Astana to al-Manar TV station, also said the “joint presence” in Idlib referred to a “secure cordon” with checkpoints.
Idlib was one of the four regions across Syria mainly controlled by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, which Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed in May to designate as a de-escalation zone in support of a ceasefire agreement.
Final stage of the deal in May
“This announcement of a de-escalation zone in Idlib constitutes the final stage of the realization of the memorandum signed in May,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, adding that the May accord had brought a significant decline in violence.
“With this latest development, the memorandum is making a significant contribution to providing necessary conditions to further the political solution process going on in Geneva under U.N. monitoring,” it said.
Critics have described the plan as de facto partitioning of Syria, but the three nations said on Sept. 15 the zones were temporary, although their existence could be extended beyond the initial six-month term.
National reconciliation teams to be set in October
Meanwhile, the guarantors have already started discussing setting up national reconciliation committees in Syria and will continue those discussions at the next meeting in late October, Lavrentyev said. The next meeting is planned to take place in late October in the Kazakh capital, read the joint agreement.