Astana safe zones deal great leap forward in peace efforts: Ja’afari

Press TV – Top Syrian negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari has praised the latest round of Astana talks as an “unprecedented” leap forward in the peace process aimed at finding a political solution to the deadly Syria crisis.

He was speaking Thursday at the end of the second day of negotiations between the Damascus government and armed opposition in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

During the talks, Iran, Russia and Turkey, as mediators and guarantors of the ceasefire regime in Syria, brokered a memorandum on the creation of four de-escalation zones in areas where the most intense fighting is taking place between Syrian government troops and different militant groups.

Ja’afari further thanked Tehran and Moscow for helping mediate the safe zones agreement, which has opened a new chapter in Syria peace efforts. He also expressed hope for Iran and Russia to hammer out the details of the agreement as soon as possible.

Iran and Russia are allies of the Syrian government, while Turkey backs different militant factions. The trio are tasked with observing the implementation of the ceasefire regime, which was agreed last December and helped launch the Astana peace process a month later.

The memorandum was adopted based on a Russian proposal to single out four hot spots in violence-hit areas of Syria, including the provinces of Idlib and Homs as well as the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.

Senior diplomats attend the signing of a memorandum on creating safe zones in Syria during the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana on May 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Under the plan, Damascus and the militant groups, which are party to the Syria-wide truce, will stop all clashes and the use of any kinds of weapons in the security zones. The measure is meant to facilitate the progress of the diplomatic process as well as aid deliveries to civilians in the troubled areas.

Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said that under the plan Russia could send observers to safe zones. He said third-party monitors could be invited provided Iran and Turkey agreed.

Also on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the memorandum.

Guterres “welcomes the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets; to rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access; and to creating conditions for the delivery of medical aid and meeting civilians’ basic needs,” his spokesman said in a statement released by the UN.

The UN chief believes it is “crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians,” the statement added, reaffirming the world body’s support for a peaceful settlement of the Syria crisis.

Earlier in the day, Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Syria envoy, hailed the deal as “an important, promising, positive step in the right direction in the process of de-escalation of the conflict.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement in support of the initiative.

The fourth round of Astana talks held on Wednesday and Thursday was also attended by US and Jordanian observers.

This is while the armed opposition delegation, representing over a dozen militant groups, has so far rejected the memorandum, claiming it poses a threat to Syria’s territorial integrity.