Authorities representing the foreign ministries of Turkey, Iran and Russia met to discuss the situation in Syria on Friday, 16 March. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, met with Javad Zarif and Mevlu Cavusoglu. Other envoys were also present for the meeting to discuss the operation of de-escalation zones in Syria and also to deal with political and humanitarian issues.
Friday’s meeting is a continuation of talks that have been ongoing for about one year. The “Astana talks”, as they have been dubbed, have been instrumental in the creation of four de-escalation zones – in Idlib, which is north of Homs, Eastern Ghouta and Syria’s southwestern areas.
The most challenging issue remains the de-escalation zone in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the ancient city of Damascus. Russia set up corridors to allow humanitarian aid to get into the region according to UN Security Council Resolution 2401 concerning the ceasefire in Syria, but militants keep impeding the evacuation of civilians and they also keep shelling Damascus. Included with the main militant group which is shelling are three other groups (Faylaq al-Rahman, Jaysh al-Islam, and Ahrar al-Sham) which Sergey Lavrov is quoted by Sputnik News in this manner:
Those armed groups that could be a part of the negotiating process are, unfortunately, operating under the umbrella of Jabhat Fatal al Sham. They created a joint command and in fact three groups: Faylaq al-Rahman, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham — became allies of Jabhat Fatal al Sham, which is designated by the UN Security Council as a terror organization,” Lavrov said, adding that the Russian servicemen were urging the three groups to distance themselves from the terrorists.
Jabhat Fatal al Sham is the group that used to be known as the al-Nusra Front, which at one point was simulataneously known as an al-Qaeda affiliate and the recipient of aid from the West, mainly the United States. However, the changing alliances in this part of the world are extraordinarily fluid, and the only thing that might be able to be firmly stated is that al-Sham might well be considered “ISIS Lite”, but with the goal of overthrowing Assad’s government and taking over Syria.
Russian servicemen in the region have been attempting to talk the three affiliate groups mentioned above into pulling away from the al-Sham people, who are universally recognized as terrorists.
Sergey Lavrov also condemned the presence of foreign forces in Syria, meaning the British, the French, and the Americans, saying that these contradicted international law and the United Nations Charter:
US, French, UK special forces are ‘on the ground’ in Syria. So it is not a ‘proxy war’ anymore, but direct engagement in the warfare,” Lavrov added.
Furthermore, the foreign minister said that Americans “plant local authorities” on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River.
“What is happening on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River, where Americans have indeed liberated vast territories from terrorists with the help of Kurds, but plant local authorities, who are intentionally isolating themselves from Damascus, and declare that they will support these authorities without any contacts with the Syrian government,” he said.
This remains an extremely fluid story. We at The Duran will strive to keep pace with it and report as situations continue to develop.