Latest Civilian Safe Zone in Syria Comes Into Effect

A truce came into effect Thursday noon in what is now the third such safe zone in a country wracked by six years of devastating conflict

File photo: Syrian women walk in between destroyed buildings in the government-held Jouret al-Shiah neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs on September 19, 2016.
AFP / Louai Beshara

Russia's Defense Ministry announced a cease-fire for a third safe zone in war-torn Syria on Thursday, following talks with the Syrian opposition in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the truce would go into effect at noon in the rebel-held area north of the city of Homs.

It is the third of four planned cease-fires reached in recent months under an agreement brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey in May that calls for "de-escalating" the bloody and prolonged Syrian civil war.

Russia and Iran are providing military support to President Bashar Assad, while Turkey sponsors some of the opposition forces arrayed against him.

Sorely needed humanitarian relief is expected to be delivered again to north Homs as part of the cease-fire, according to the British-based Syrian

Observatory for Human Rights. Russia will deploy monitors to enforce the agreement and facilitate the movement of goods in and out of the enclave, as it has done around another cease-fire zone in the suburbs of Damascus.

The U.N. has long pleaded with the sides in Syria to allow relief to flow to besieged areas. It says the parties are using food and other basic goods as a weapon of war. Pro-government forces have been responsible for most of the obstructionism.

The government's air force has cut back its attacks on the four "de-escalation zones" designated in the May agreement.

Also Thursday, a 117-bus convoy from Lebanon carrying thousands of refugees and al-Qaida-linked militants began arriving at a transfer point in the western Syrian province of Hama, en route to the rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria. Idlib is dominated by a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida.

The buses will be released toward the north in staggered groups as the militants in Idlib release prisoners from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting in support of Assad's government in Syria.

The swap is part of an agreement struck this week to provide al-Qaida-linked militants with safe passage out of Lebanon. Some 6,000 Syrians elected to leave Lebanon with the fighters. It followed two weeks of battles between Hezbollah and the Syrian government on the one side, and the al-Qaida-linked militants on the other, along the frontier between Lebanon and Syria.