Syrian Rebels Reject Russia's Proposal For Safe Zones

Syrian Rebels Reject Russia's Proposal For Safe Zones

Syria's armed opposition on Thursday (May 4) rejected a Russian plan to create safe 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 al-Assad, agreed earlier in the day to Russia's proposal for "de-escalation zones" in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations.

"We refuse any role for Iran and militias affiliated with it. We refuse for it (Iran) to play any role as guarantor considering it is a nation with hostilities against the Syrian people," opposition delegate Osama Abu Zaid said after Russia, Turkey and Iran - the sponsors of talks in the Kazakh capital Astana aimed at ending Syria's fighting - signed a memorandum on creating safe zones.

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.

Several opposition delegates walked out in protest, briefly interrupting the signing of the safe zones memorandum.

Russia, Turkey and Iran did not immediately publish the memorandum, leaving its details unclear. But the safe zones appear intended to be conflict-free in order to help widen a ceasefire, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops.

The U.S. representative present at the Astana talks did not sign the memorandum.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Khairat Abdurrahmanov said the next round of peace talks would be held in Astana in mid-July.