Second day of reported clashes despite de-escalation zones in Syria

Soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army in Aleppo.

While the Russian-led effort to de-escalate violence seems to have reduced fighting, clashes between Syrian rebel and government forces were reported in Hama for the second consecutive day.

According to Reuters, reports said that the Syrian army seized control of the village of al-Zalakiyat north of Hama on Sunday amid a heavy bombardment.

Armed rebel groups, including Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ahrar al-Sham, and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) launched an offensive against government forces in Hama on 21 March. In mid-April, rebel gains were reversed as governement forces advanced.

Clashes reportedly also took place in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Syria’s government said it supported the proposal but added that it would continue to fight what it called terrorist groups around the country.

The Syrian government supports the de-escalation zones deal, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran during the Astana talks, intended to quell fighting in the country’s six-year-old civil war. However, Syria also said the army would continue to fight against what Damascus termed terrorist groups across the country.

Opposition groups participating in the Astana talks rejected the deal, saying that special zones threatened Syria’s territorial integrity, that any role for Iran was unacceptable, and that Russia had been unable to get Assad to respect previous ceasefire agreements.

The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) also rejected the plan to create de-escalation zones in Syria and views it as “sectarian partition” of the country, a spokesman said on Friday.

The agreement on de-escalation zones was reached at peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, and backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The largest de-escalation zone includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The other three zones are in northern Homs province, the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital Damascus and along the Jordanian border in southern Syria.

The plan specifies a six-month renewable truce, that began on Saturday, and a halt to Assad’s air force flying over the de-escalation areas.