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Syrian regime agrees to ceasefire in ravaged Damascus suburb

Ghouta has been one of the most heavily bombed areas in Syria [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 July, 2017

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Eastern Ghouta has been one of the most heavily bombed areas of Syria. Now peace could return as the Syrian regime announces a ceasefire.

A ceasefire has been announced to cover one last rebel strongholds near Damascus, after Syrian rebels and regime ally Russia agreed on a "safe zone" for the besieged opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

The Damascus suburb has been battered by seven years of fighting and is one of the last bastions of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime outside Idlib province.

Eastern Ghouta is in one of four proposed "de-escalation zones" designated in a deal between Turkey, Russia and Iran in May.

It has not yet been fully implemented due to disgreements on who will police the safe zones.

Ceasefire

Eastern Ghouta is just the second zone to see a ceasefire come into force.

The army "announces a halt in fighting in some areas of Eastern Ghouta in Damascus province from midday on Saturday (9am GMT)," it said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

"The army will retaliate in a suitable manner to any violation" of the ceasefire, the statement warned.

It did not say which areas would be included in the ceasefire.

The Syrian regime has also repeatedly broken previous ceasefire agreements.

Russia said hours earlier it had signed a deal with "moderate" Syrian rebels at peace talks in Cairo on how a safe zone would function in Eastern Ghouta.

However, no rebel group has come forward saying it signed the Cairo agreement, with one influential group saying it was not involved.


The Cairo meeting "follows on from the ceasefire deal for the south of Syria" that took hold on 9 July, said Wael Alwan, a spokesman for Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group.

That ceasefire covered areas of southern Syria including Ghouta and was brokered by Russia, the US and Jordan.

Russia said it and the rebels had signed agreements under which "the borders of the de-escalation zone are defined as well as the deployment locations and powers of the forces monitoring the de-escalation".

It said the sides had also agreed "routes to supply humanitarian aid to the population and for free movement of residents".

The first humanitarian convoy and evacuation of wounded would take place "in the next few days", Russia has said.

De-escalation zones

The two other "de-escalation zones" included in the May deal are the rebel-held province of Idlib and northern parts of the central province of Homs.

More than 2.5 million people are believed to live in the four zones, and should see an end to fighting and regime air strikes for six months.

However, Russia, Turkey and Iran failed to meet a 4 June deadline to agree on the boundaries of the zones.

One major stumbling block appeared to be who would ensure security in all four areas, with Turkey and Iran in particular reportedly wrangling to bolster their influence.

A new meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana is expected during the last week of August, with rebels as well as representatives from Turkey and Iran to attend, Russia has said.

Moscow has argued the zones agreement would provide moderate rebels with security and help focus attacks against jihadi groups such as former al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah al-Sham and the Islamic State group.

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