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Russia, Turkey, Iran sign deal to set up Syria safe zones

Russia, Iran and Turkey on Thursday signed an agreement to set up four safe zones in Syria that the United Nations described as a promising step to wind down the brutal six-year war.

The United States however gave an extremely cautious welcome, citing Iran’s role as a guarantor even as it expressed hope that the deal could set the stage for a settlement.

Several members of the rebel delegation left the room shouting in protest as the signing ceremony got underway in the Kazakh capital Astana, angry at regime ally Iran, an AFP reporter saw.

The plan for the “de-escalation zones” was discussed on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a telephone conversation that the White House described as a “very good one.”

The agreement provides for a ceasefire, a ban on all flights, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid to the designated areas and the return of refugees.

Russia and Iran, which back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the war, and Turkey, a supporter of rebel forces, hope to build on a ceasefire deal they reached in December.

The Syrian government and rebel delegations are not signatories to the deal.

“We are not supporting this agreement. It is an agreement between the three countries,” said Usama Abu Zeid, a rebel spokesman. “We do not at all agree that Iran .. is a guarantor of this accord.”

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was in Astana as an observer, described the agreement as “an important promising positive step in the right direction” toward de-escalation.

A working group will be set up within two weeks to resolve technical issues and the three countries agreed to set up the four areas by June 4.

The first zone included the whole of Idlib province along with certain parts of neighbouring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces. The second will encompass certain parts in the north of Homs province and the third will be comprised of some areas of Eastern Ghouta, outside of Damascus.

The fourth zone will include parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria, according to the memorandum seen by AFP.

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