Reports of bombing in Hama province as Russian-led agreement intended to stop conflict between government and rebel forces comes into force
Syrian government forces and rebels clashed in the north-western province of Hama on Friday shortly after a Russian-led deal to establish safe zones took effect, a monitor and a rebel official said.
The zones, agreed to by Russia, Turkey and Iran, went into effect at midnight on Friday. The plans details will be worked out over the next few weeks but the zones appear intended to halt conflict in specific areas between government forces and rebels, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops.
Fighter jets fired at the rebel-held village of al-Zalakiyat and nearby positions in the Hama countryside, where the combatants exchanged shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based war monitoring group said government forces shelled the nearby towns of Kafr Zita and Latamneh. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian army.
The de-escalation zones are the latest international attempt to reduce violence in the war-ravaged country, and represent the first effort to envisage armed foreign monitors on the ground in Syria.
The United States is not party to the agreement and the Syrian rivals have not signed up to the deal. The armed opposition was highly critical of the proposal, saying it lacks legitimacy.
Russian officials said it would be at least another month before details were worked out and the safe areas established.
The Syrian government supported the de-escalation plan but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups. Rebels rejected the deal and said they would not recognise Iran as a guarantor of any ceasefire.
Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group based in Hama, confirmed that fighting had broken out after midnight.
With the help of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict. The wide array of rebel groups include some supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.
The main Syrian opposition body, the HNC, which includes political and armed groups, denounced the plan earlier as vague. The High Negotiations Committee said the deal was concluded without the Syrian people and lacks the minimum basics of legitimacy.
Iran and Turkey agreed on Thursday to a Russian proposal for de-escalation zones in Syria but the memorandum the three guarantors signed has not been made public, leaving its details unclear.
In the tangled mess that constitutes Syrias battlefields there is much that can go wrong with the plan, which emerged from a summit in Kazakhstan.
There is no clear mechanism to resolve conflict and violations, like most other previous deals struck by backers of the warring sides.
A potential complication to implementing the plan is the crowded airspace over Syria. The deal calls for all aircraft to be banned from flying over the safe zones. Syrian, Russian, Turkish and US-led coalition aircraft all operate in Syria.
It is not yet clear how the new plan would affect flightpaths of US-led coalition warplanes battling Islamic State militants and other radical groups and whether the American air force would abide by a diminished air space.
Russia and Iran two of the plans three sponsors are key allies of President Bashar Assads government and both are viewed as foreign occupation forces by his opponents. Rebels fighting to topple Assad are enraged by Irans role in the deal and blame the Tehran for fuelling the sectarian nature of Syrias conflict, now in its seventh year.
Turkey, the third sponsor, is a major backer of opposition factions and has also sent troops into northern Syria, drawing the ire of Assad and his government.
Troops from the three countries are expected to secure four safe zones. An official with Russias military general staff said other countries may eventually have a role in enforcing them.