Russia says forces deployed to police Syria safe zones

Senior commander says Israel informed of military police checkpoints and observation posts as close as 13 kilometers from Golan border

A girl walks past the rubble of a destroyed building down a street in the rebel-held Syrian town of Ayn Tarma, in the Ghouta area east of the capital Damascus, July 19, 2017. (AFP/ABDULMONAM EASSA)
A girl walks past the rubble of a destroyed building down a street in the rebel-held Syrian town of Ayn Tarma, in the Ghouta area east of the capital Damascus, July 19, 2017. (AFP/ABDULMONAM EASSA)

MOSCOW — Russia has deployed military police to monitor two safe zones being established in Syria, the defense ministry in Moscow said Monday.

Senior commander Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had set up checkpoints and observation posts around a zone in the south-west and in another one covering Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

The two areas are part of a broader Moscow-backed plan to create four “de-escalation zones” in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The announcement marks the first deployment of foreign troops to bolster the safe zones as Moscow seeks to pacify Syria after its military intervention swung the six-year conflict in favor of President Bashar Assad.

Rudskoi said Russian personnel on July 21 and 22 established two checkpoints and 10 observation posts along the boundaries dividing rebel forces and government troops in the southern zone.

Earlier this month Russia, the United States and Jordan struck a deal to fix the boundaries of this zone and impose a ceasefire in the area.

Moscow has also informed Israel of its deployment and that the nearest Russian position is 13 kilometers from the demarcation line between Israeli and Syrian troops in the Golan Heights, Rudskoi said.

Under a second deal Moscow said it struck with “moderate” rebels over the weekend in Egypt, Russian forces on Monday also set up two checkpoints and four observation posts in the area covering conflict-ravaged Eastern Ghouta, he added.

The Syrian army on Saturday announced a halt in fighting for parts of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held region on the outskirts of the capital, but a London-based monitor said regime war planes still carried out raids.

Assad’s forces have surrounded the Eastern Ghouta region for more than four years, and regime forces have regularly targeted the area.

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