Fresh Syria talks hit hurdles as safe zones mooted

Fresh Syria talks hit hurdles as safe zones mooted

Fresh Syria talks hit hurdles as safe zones mooted Syrian rebels said on May 3 they were suspending participation in a latest round of peace talks aimed at pushing a Russian plan for “de-escalation zones” in the war-torn country.

Syrian government and opposition delegations gathered in the Kazakh capital Astana for the start of the fourth round of talks sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey to try and end the six-year war, but the rebels soon said they were temporarily pulling out.

“The rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent air strikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria,” a rebel source in Astana told AFP.

The negotiations began with a series of bilateral meetings and were expected to focus on a Russian plan to establish “de-escalation zones” around the country.

A source close to the opposition provided AFP with an Arabic-language version of the proposal drafted by Russia, which an opposition official confirmed was being discussed.

It calls for the creation of “de-escalation zones” in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib, in parts of Homs province in the center, in the south, and in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

The aim is to “put an immediate end to the violence” and “provide the conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees” as well as the immediate delivery of relief supplies and medical aid, the document said.

According to the draft, “security zones” would be created around these areas with checkpoints and monitoring centers manned by government troops and rebel fighters.

Military units from unspecified “observer countries” could also be deployed, the document said, naming Turkey, Iran and Russia as guarantors of the agreement.

It said a “joint working group” would be created within five days of the document being signed by the warring parties.

The Astana talks are portrayed as a compliment to broader U.N.-backed peace efforts in Switzerland that have so far failed to bridge major rifts between the warring sides.

Before they began, the rebel side laid out a list of demands including a regime withdrawal from areas taken after the start of a tattered ceasefire at the end of last year that the opposition accuses Damascus of frequently violating.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor meanwhile said a car bomb on May 3 killed at least five people in the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

The blast followed a bloody assault May 2 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against a camp for displaced people on the border with Iraq that left at least 46 people dead.