Syria Safe Zones Hold, Violence Drops Significantly

Details of the Safe Zones Are Still Being Worked Out

Last week, a series of safe zones in Syria went into effect, with an aim of separating warring factions around the country. The details of how this is all going to work isn’t clear. It is working though, and that’s a significant detail, with fighting dropping significantly nationwide.

Fighting, of course, hasn’t stopped entirely, with four rebels reported killed over the course of Saturday. Still, that’s dramatically less than on a normal day before the safe zones, and even as the rebels reject the safe zone idea, that relative calm is reason to be at least a bit hopeful.

Russian officials say the specifics of how the safe zones will be enforced are still far from finalized, and that it might well be at least as long as another month before everything is sorted out. In the meantime, the main thing that’s holding it together at all is the idea that it might work, after so many years of war.

Of course, a lot can go wrong with the deal, particularly right now while the details of enforcement are purely theoretical. That nothing has gone wrong yet may be a coincidence, but it might also be a sign of cooler heads prevailing for a change.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of

  • Gary Sellars

    Kill the terrorist scumbags… All of them.

  • Another score for Putin.

  • Bianca

    The fight agains ISIS and Al-Qaeda, under its third name. One of the consequences of safe areas is the separation of “moderate” islamists from ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Translated, if the “moderates” continue collaborating with the tertorist groups, they will not be protected. But if they fight terrorists — Government forces will not attack them. But there is more to it. For as long as one knows the key difference between “moderate” islamists and ISIS/Al-Qaeda. “Moderates” are local warlord-led islamists that formed self-defense groups when Syrian Army lost control over parts of Syria. They hedged their bets, took Saudi money and CIA arms supplies, and expecting that West would oust Assad. But they were not accepting control of groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda as they did not know who really controls them. ISIS and Al-Qaeda do not have local roots, and have international fighters as well as murky paymasters. But — as has been the case throughout the war — the “good” militants collaborated with the two terrorist groups, and some of them became permanent allies. As Sytian Army recovered territories, many local groups decided to return to civilian life, signed reconciliaton agreement, and received aid, money to run their local government and money to police their own territory. More then 500 such self defense groups signed reconciliation, laid down weapons and received amnesty. However, every time locals opted for layin down weapons, Al-Qaeda or ISIS would be forced to leave the area. Idlib became the designated area — but the area also is home to Turkish supported Free Syrian Army, and is next to Kurdish Afrin area.

    Today, one of the largest islamists groups in one safe area, Jaish Al-Islam, declared a war on AlQaeda faction in the same area. The writing on the wall is — Government will do a great deal to support any local warlord and his militants to push Al-Qaeda out into Idlib, and if they play games and refuse, both the government and the warlord militants will attack them. What is shaping here is — with some money and aid, as well as some promises for future political influence, local militias are ready to move on — and get the best deal in the future. And Jaish Al-Islam is one of the biggest. Their leader was in Astana, and he does not take orders from Saudi based High Negotiating Commitee. The time has come for bargaining, and this is what gives hope.

  • Ten Count Toronto

    It’s unlikely either the rebels or the Assad regime actually want a far reaching ceasefire as anything other than a breather between rounds.

    Theoretically Russian influence & diplomacy would stand to benefit from the success of safe zones, but it will be undermined for that very reason. It won’t take long before the rebels, White Helmets and Observatory for Jihadist Victory push out claims off new massacres which immediately be adopted and trumpeted by their US & EU sponsors. Given that dynamic there is no real incentive for Russia to actually achieve successful safe zones.

    We know from the Balkan conflicts what Western Safe Zones and “humanitarian aid” corridors actually do – months later, the military forces of their preferred faction are experience a miraculous revival often with appearance of weapons not before seen in the theater,

    Since Syria safe Zones will certainly fail in their stated objective, it remains to be seen what Russia’s use of this tool is really meant to accomplish.