Russian-backed safe zones plan a bid to divide Syria - opponents

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BEIRUT (AP) - Violence left at least four opposition fighters dead and a child wounded in central and southern Syria Saturday despite relative calm prevailing across the war-ravaged country after a deal to set up "de-escalation zones" in mostly opposition-held areas went into effect, opposition activists and government media outlets said. A cease-fire is unsustainable in the presence of the Iranian-backed militias in Syria, he said. Iran, Assad's other major ally, also backed it.

Lund said that from the outside, the agreement "does not look like it has great chances of success" and seems to "lack a clear mechanism to resolve conflicting claims and interpretations".

The agreement said four de-escalation zones would be established in Syria for a period of six months which could be extended if the three signatory countries agreed.

Germany's foreign ministry said it was anxious by reports of violations but that successfully implementing the deal could be the first step towards a real ceasefire in Syria.

“Russia is ready to send its observers” to help enforce the safe zones, President Vladimir Putins envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

The new deal was penned by Turkey, which backs the opposition, as well as Russian Federation and Iran, who are supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We continue to have concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called "guarantor", the State Department said in a statement Thursday.

The plan's details will be worked out over the next several weeks. The Pentagon has said the de-escalation agreement will not affect its campaign against ISIS.

Lavrentiev added: "The only place where the worldwide coalition's aviation can work is on the objects of the Islamic State that are located in the Raqqa area, some populated areas in the area of the Euphrates, Deir el-Zour and further on the Iraqi territory".

Another question left unanswered is how the deal would affect US airstrikes targeting al-Qaida's positions in Syria.

A day after the U.S. gave tepid support for the establishment of Syrian safe zones to try to separate combatant forces and reduce the amount of fighting, they appear to have noticed that this might get in their way of their own attacks across the country, and are pledging to ignore the demilitarization of the zones.

USA warplanes have frequently struck the al-Qaida affiliate in the northern Idlib province, where the militant group dominates.

The Syrian government supported the de-escalation plan, but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups.

On Thursday, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement to create deescalation zones in Syria with a view to ending the fighting in Syria.

A key Syrian opposition official has said that Iran is part of the problem rather than the solution for the war-torn country, and should have no role in the newly implemented "de-escalation" zones.

Berry reported from Moscow.