Syrian opposition slam Russian-sponsored 'safe zone' deal
Syrian opposition members walked out of a meeting on Syrian peace talks on Thursday, after a Russian-backed plan for "safe zones" in Syria was backed by Moscow's international partners.
The agreement to establish ceasefire areas in large parts of northern, central and southern Syria was signed by Bashar al-Assad's backers Russia and Iran, and an ally of rebel forces Turkey, but not by the Syrian opposition or regime.
The deal led to some members of the Syrian opposition delegation in the Kazakh capital Astana to slam the agreement.
Their chief gripe was the involvement of Iran, a country which has poured tens thousands of troops and fighters into Syria to fight rebel forces.
"Iran is a criminal and we will not accept its signature," said Yasser Abdul Raheem, from Faleeq al-Sham who was in Astana for the talks.
The comment led to Raheem walking out of the conference along with a number of other opposition figures.
This included leading opposition representative Osama Abu Zeid, Orient News reported who said the opposition would not accept any agreement involving Iran, labelling it a "hostile state".
"We cannot accept the involvement of Iran that is slaughtering the Syria people and fuelling sectarian division. We cannot accept it to act as a guarantor," Abu Zaid said in a press conference.
"This is the key and core problem in the agreement."
He said that similar Russian-sponsored ceasefire deals in the past have been frequently broken by Moscow and Damascus.
Abu Zaid also demanded the release of detainees, aid to enter rebel areas, and an immediate end to bombing and attacks.
Yet the safe zone agreement has been welcomed by the US and some other world powers.
Similarly, the UN also said the deal provides an opportunity for peace to return to large parts of Syria.
"It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The deal signed on Thursday will see "de-escalation zones" established in rebel-held Idlib province in the north, parts of Homs and Hama in the interior, Daraa in the south, and Ghouta in the Damascus suburbs.
Moscow says this will mean that the regime and Russian air forces will be grounded in these areas, and fighting should begin to end.
Idlib city saw a peaceful evening on Thursday, according to opposition figures, which has been subject to intense bombing in recent months.
The surprise announcement by Russia of "safe zones" have been a key demand of rebel-backers Turkey.
Analysts say that Moscow could be pushing the Assad regime to de-escalate the conflict and agree to the plan.
Assad has insisted throughout the conflict that he would only accept a regime victory to end the war, while the opposition have demanded that the president should depart from power before peace comes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly called US President Donald Trump before the peace deal was announced.
It comes after Washington sharpened its tone against Moscow and launched missile strikes on a regime air base following a chemical attack on an opposition Idlib village.
Syria has been embroiled in fighting since 2011 when anti-government protests were brutally put down by regime forces sparking a larger armed uprising.
The fighting has cost Syria 500,000 million lives, the vast majority victims of regime bombing.