Opposition group denounces Syria safe zones plan

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments regarding Syria (all times local):

10 p.m.

A Syrian opposition coalition says the Russia-backed deal to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria lacks legitimacy and seeks to divide the country.

The statement was issued late on Friday by the Western- and Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee.

It denounced the deal, which is expected to come in effect at midnight, as an attempt to “legitimize” Iranian presence in Syria — a reference to Tehran-backed fighters who are siding with the Syrian government in the war. The opposition says Iran fuels the sectarian nature of the conflict.

The committee said the deal is an attempt to give Syrian government troops military victories they could not achieve on the battleground by neutralizing rebel-held areas.

HNC’s strongly worded statement says only the United Nations should be entrusted with talks to deal with the Syrian conflict.

It also called on the U.S. and other Arab allied countries, to take “firm stances” to prevent the implementation of the deal.

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6:10 p.m.

The Pentagon says the de-escalation agreement will not affect the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Friday that “the coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary.” ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Sunni militant group.

Rankine-Galloway noted that the U.S. government is not party to the agreement, which was struck during cease-fire talks in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

The United States was represented at the talks but was not part of the agreement signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The Pentagon spokesman also said that the U.S. continues “to effectively de-conflict coalition operations, however, we are not going to discuss the specifics of how we de-conflict operations in the highly congested and complex battlespace in Syria.”

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5:40 p.m.

An official with Russia’s military…

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