Syria Safe-Zones-Plan Takes Effect - A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district in the northern city of Aleppo – © Photo: Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP
A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district in the northern city of Aleppo – © Photo: Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP

RUSSIA, IRAN AND TURKEY have agreed to a memorandum establishing four safe zones across the north, central, and southern parts of Syria. This plan took effect on 05 May at 21:00 GMT.

Consequently fighting has eased in parts of Syria as the Russian-led initiative to halt the country’s six-year war has come into force.

Russia, backed by Iran and Turkey, unveiled the deal of setting up four “de-escalation zones” on 01 May. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said that there had been no bombing raids by Russian aviation in the four zones since 01 May.

Russia’s air force, however, would continue striking militants elsewhere in Syria such as Al-Nusra and IS.

Activist across these four safe zones have confirmed to MPC Journal that Russian aircraft raids have decreased in their skies. However, this remains relative, as there are several incidents of shelling and gunfire by regime forces and militias reported by Syrian opposition groups, especially in Hama province and what they called the “hot fronts”.

Based on these controversies, opposition groups and civilians a lack of faith in the agreement.

The Syrian military have so far not commented on the issue, but regime-affiliated media blessed the plan.

What Are the Safe Zones?

The agreement on “the creation of de-escalation areas” was announced by the Russian military after talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

Russia’s foreign ministry published the memorandum on 06 May 2017 at 12:4 GMT.

Here is the full agreement:

Memorandum on the creation of de-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic 

The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey as guarantors of the observance of the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereinafter referred to as “Guarantors”):

  • guided by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2254 (2015);
  • reaffirming their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic;
  • expressing their determination to decrease the level of military tensions and to provide for the security of civilians in the Syrian Arab Republic,

have agreed on the following.

  1. the following de-escalation areas shall be created with the aim to put a prompt end to violence, improve the humanitarian situation and create favorable conditions to advance political settlement of the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic:
  •  Idlib province and certain parts of the neighbouring provinces (Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces);
  • certain parts in the north of Homs province;
  • in eastern Ghouta;
  • certain parts of southern Syria (Deraa and Al-Quneitra provinces).

The creation of the de-escalation areas and security zones is a temporary measure, the duration of which will initially be 6 months and will be automatically extended on the basis of consensus of the Guarantors.

  1. Within the lines of the de-escalation areas:
  • hostilities between the conflicting parties (the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition groups that have joined and will join the ceasefire regime) with the use of any kinds of weapons, including aerial assets, shall be ceased;
  • rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access shall be provided;
  • conditions to deliver medical aid to local population and to meet basic needs of civilians shall be created;
  • measures to restore basic infrastructure facilities, starting with water supply and electricity distribution networks, shall be taken;
  • conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons shall be created.
  1. Along the lines of the de-escalation areas, security zones shall be established in order to prevent incidents and military confrontations between the conflicting parties.
  2. The security zones shall include:

– Checkpoints to ensure unhindered movement of unarmed civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as to facilitate economic activities;

– Observation posts to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ceasefire regime.

         The functioning of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as the administration of the security zones shall be ensured by the forces of the Guarantors by consensus. Third parties might be deployed, if necessary, by consensus of the Guarantors.

  1. The Guarantors shall:
  • take all necessary measures to ensure the fulfillment by the conflicting parties of the ceasefire regime;
  • take all necessary measures to continue the fight against DAESH/ISIL, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL as designated by the UN Security Council within and outside the de-escalation areas;
  • continue efforts to include in the ceasefire regime armed opposition groups that have not yet joined the ceasefire regime.
  1. The Guarantors shall in 2 weeks after signing the Memorandum form a Joint working group on de-escalation (hereinafter referred to as the “Joint Working Group”) composed of their authorized representatives in order to delineate the lines of the de-escalation areas and security zones as well as to resolve other operational and technical issues related to the implementation of the Memorandum.

The Guarantors shall take steps to complete by 4 June 2017 the preparation of the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones and to separate the armed opposition groups from the terrorist groups mentioned in para.5 of the Memorandum.

The Joint Working Group shall prepare by the above-mentioned date the maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones to be agreed by consensus of the Guarantors as well as the draft Regulation of the Joint Working Group.

The Joint Working Group shall report on its activities to the high-level international meetings on Syria held in Astana.

The present Memorandum enters into force the next day after its signing.

Done in Astana, 4 May 2017 in three copies in English, having equal legal force.


Islamic Republic of Iran   

Russian Federation   

Republic of Turkey 

The Syrian government of President Al-Assad is not a signatory on the agreement.

While the objective is to halt violence by all sides and to “provide the conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees”, medical aid and relief supplies, many civilians, while happy for such a plan, expressed their scepticism.

The four zones will remain in place for six months, but their borders have to be finalised by Russia, Iran and Turkey by 04 June.

The US has expressed concern over Iran, as a signatory on this agreement because Iran has “only contributed to the violence, not stopped it”.

In a statement, the US State Department, which was represented at the talks by Acting Assistant Secretary Stuart Jones, said:  “We appreciate the efforts of Turkey and the Russian Federation to pursue this agreement and have encouraged the Syrian opposition to participate actively in the discussions despite the difficult conditions on the ground.”

“We continue to have concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called “guarantor”. Iran’s activities in Syria have only contributed to the violence, not stopped it, and Iran’s unquestioning support for the Assad regime has perpetuated the misery of ordinary Syrians,” Jones added.

A partial cessation of hostilities was declared at the end of 2016, which relatively had a positive effect, but violence has continued on several fronts across Syria.

By Hakim Charles

Hakim Charles studied political science of the Middle East, European Studies, journalism and linguistics. He has been lecturing at different German universities since 2011 on issues related to ideology and the interplay of power thereof in socio-political life, and religion and its relationship to contemporary politics in the regions of West Asia and North Africa, especially Egypt and Syria. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal (MPC Journal) since 2014 and has published over 100 articles in different languages, academic and otherwise, in a wide spectrum of on-line and printed newspapers, journals and think tanks. His current research focuses on Islam-inspired political ideologies such as Islamist extremism and Salafism, radicalisation, de-radicalisation processes in Germany as well as peace and conflict in the Middle East.