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Syria says no to UN monitors for de-escalation zones

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says Damascus does not agree to any role for the United Nations or other “international forces” to monitor the implementation of a deal on four de-escalation zones in the war-torn Arab country.

“We do not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement,” Muallem told a televised news conference on Monday.

He added that there could be a role for military police as Russia has said, but did not clarify whether he was referring to Syrian or foreign units.

The top Syrian diplomat further underlined that his government would observe the de-escalation plan as long as militant groups abide by its terms.

Russia, with backing from Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran, brokered the deal for establishing de-escalation zones in mainly militant-held areas of Syria during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital city of Astana last week.

The plan, which came into effect at midnight on Friday, calls for the cessation of hostilities between militant groups and Syrian government forces.

It covers the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, northeastern areas of the western coastal province of Latakia, western areas of Aleppo Province and northern areas of Hama Province.

It also applies to the Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in northern Homs Province, Eastern Ghouta district in the northern Damascus countryside as well as the militant-controlled southern part of the country along the border with Jordan.

Muallem stressed that militant groups involved in the de-escalation plan must help clear areas they control of Takfiri terror groups, including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham that was formerly known as al-Nusra Front, and that Russia, Turkey and Iran, as the deal’s guarantors, must help them do so.

“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,” he said.

Muallem added that the ongoing UN-sponsored Syrian peace talks in Geneva were not making progress, stressing that the government viewed potential local “reconciliation” deals with militant as an alternative.

The Syrian foreign minister also pointed to the US administration’s apparent change of approach towards Syria, saying, “It seems the United States, where (President Donald) Trump has said the Syrian crisis has dragged on too long, might have come to the conclusion that there must be an understanding with Russia on a solution.”