BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s foreign minister said on Monday Damascus would abide by Russia’s plan for “de-escalation” zones if rebels observed it, adding the insurgents should help drive jihadists from opposition-controlled areas.
Walid al-Moualem told a news conference there would be no role for the United Nations or other “international forces” in the de-escalation zones but Russia saw an observer role for military police. He gave no further details.
Syria’s ally Russia and regional power Iran have helped President Bashar al-Assad gain the military advantage against rebels fighting for six years to unseat him, and Moscow has led most of the recent diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.
Russia brokered the deal for de-escalation zones with backing from Iran and opposition supporter Turkey during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week. The deal took effect at midnight on Friday.
Some fighting has continued in those areas, particularly north of Hama city, but the overall intensity has reduced, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Rebel officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Moualem’s comments on Monday.
“It is the duty of the groups which signed the ceasefire agreement to expel Nusra from these zones until the areas really become de-escalated. It is for the guarantors to help these factions,” Moualem said, referring specifically to rebel-held Idlib province as a place where jihadist groups were present.
The now-rebranded Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, earlier this year routed more moderate rebels in fighting in Idlib in an assault on parts of the armed opposition that participated in talks.
Rebels participating in the Astana talks were signatories to a ceasefire agreement reached in December, which excluded the jihadists.
Moualem said separate peace talks under U.N. auspices in Geneva were not progressing. Local reconciliation deals that the government is pursuing with rebels were an…