Published: Wed, May 10, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Mattis: US reviews Syria safe zones with many questions

Mattis: US reviews Syria safe zones with many questions

He added that basic details were still unclear, including who specifically would ensure the zones were "safe" and exactly which groups would be kept out of them. "This is really the key question and frankly the answer to this question is "not yet", Delattre told reporters.

"We do not accept a role for the United Nations or worldwide forces to monitor the agreement", al-Moallem told reporters.

But he added that Russian Federation, as guarantor of the agreement, said there would be "military police and observation centers".

Though he did not specify who the military police would be, he appeared to be referring to Russian observers already in Syria. It calls on Syrian forces and rebels to reduce their fighting in the special zones. "All these details are to be worked out and we're engaged". Under the deal, Russia, Iran and Turkey have until June 4 to agree on the exact boundaries.

For its part, the State Department earlier questioned the notion of Iran serving as a so-called guarantor for the safe zone agreement.

Russian Federation brokered the deal for de-escalation zones with backing from Iran and opposition supporter Turkey during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week.

A tepid statement of support from the USA last week on the Syrian safe zones scheme doesn't mean the United States is wholly on board, though according to Defense Secretary James Mattis, the U.S. has been told some of the "general parameters" and are still carefully studying the idea.

Al-Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, said he hopes the agreement will, as a start, achieve a separation between Syrian armed opposition groups and extremist groups such as al-Qaida, saying the former must force the latter to leave the de-escalation zones.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday that his government would abide by the terms of the plan so long as rebels also observed it, although the Syrian government has also said it will continue to fight what it calls terrorist groups.

Under the agreement, which is to last initially for six months, all combatants in the conflict are forbidden to use weapons in the de-escalation zones, including warplanes. Despite several rounds of United Nations -mediated negotiations in Geneva, the government and opposition remain at odds over Assad's future role in Syria.

Neither the Syrian government nor the opposition have signed the agreement.

The deal to evacuate Barzeh district mirrors similar agreements for opposition-held territory elsewhere, allowing fighters safe passage in exchange for surrender.

The development is the latest in a series of population transfers in the war-torn country over the past year. However, the organization reported that only four buses had left the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, which has been under siege for the past month.

Al-Moallem suggested government forces' next target is Deir el-Zour, where IS militants are besieging parts of the eastern city that are under government control and are home to tens of thousands of people.

However, he said that it is still unclear how this ceasefire deal would affect the United States war against Daesh.

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