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Syria says no to international force patrolling safe zones

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moalem

Syria on Monday dismissed the idea of foreign forces patrolling four safe zones that are to be established under a deal struck by Russia, Iran and Turkey, suggesting Damascus would only settle for Russian “military police” who are already present in the so-called “de-escalation” areas.

“There will be no presence by any international forces supervised by the United Nations,” foreign minister Walid Al Moallem said in Damascus. “The Russian guarantor has clarified that there will be military police and observation centres.”

He said Damascus would abide by the agreement signed in the Kazakh capital of Astana last week, but warned that government forces would respond “decisively” to any violation or attack from the opposition’s side.

There are still logistical details that will be discussed in Damascus and we will see the extent of commitment to this agreement,

he said.

Al Moallem’s remarks came as Russia sought support for the deal from the UN Security Council in a draft resolution submitted on Friday.

The Astana agreement was circulated as an annex to the draft resolution, which means it was formally submitted to the council for its approval.

Read: Russia, US, Turkey call for safe zones in Syria

The ceasefire deal went into effect over the weekend and brought a general reduction in violence across the country, but clashes continued, particularly in central Syria. There are still questions about how it will be enforced.

According to statements in Astana, Russia and Iran, which support Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, may deploy armed forces to secure the de-escalation zones.

The United States is not a party to the agreement, but Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday that the US owed it to the people of Syria to take a close look at the proposal for safe zones.

Read: Syria opposition rejects Russia, Iran, Turkey ‘safe zones’

“It’s all in the process right now,” Mattis said. “Who is going to be ensuring they’re safe? Who is signing up for it? Who is specifically to be kept out of them? All these details are to be worked out and we’re engaged.”

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