Russia sets up ‘de-confliction’ zone in northern Syria

Sergei Rudskoi
Sergei Rudskoi

Sergei Rudskoi

:: Russia’s military on Wednesday said it had set up a zone north of the Syrian city of Aleppo to stop clashes between Kurdish fighters and opposition fighters.

“To prevent provocations and possible clashes between the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria and Kurdish militia, a de-confliction zone was created in Tal Rifaat district,” senior Russian military officer Sergei Rudskoi told a briefing.

“Contingents of Syrian government forces have replaced Kurdish armed groups which have left this district” and “a contingent of Russian military police has been brought in to the area” and set up checkpoints, Rudskoi said.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) last month said that under an agreement with Moscow, “Russian military observers” would “deploy along multiple points” in the area to monitor and provide security.

Rudskoi said about 400 people have returned to their homes in Tal Rifaat since the de-confliction zone was established.

Speaking the day after Syrian regime forces broke the blockade of Daesh of their stronghold Deir Ezzor, Rudskoi further said that the Syrian Army had “achieved serious success” in east and central Syria over the past two weeks.

He said it had freed 59 towns and villages from “terrorists.”

“The average speed of the advance by the government troops over the last three days was 15-20 km a day,” the commander of Russian forces in Syria, Sergei Surovikin, said at the briefing.

“The operation to liquidate the last major base of the terrorists in Syria is being completed,” he said.

Russian warplanes carried out 2,687 strikes in support of the offensive over the past two weeks, he said.

Meanwhile, in Deir Ezzor, Mahmoud Mashhour could hardly hide his impatience Wednesday for Syria’s soldiers to fully recapture the city so he can reunite with his family on the outside.

Hours after Syrian troops and military vehicles broke through that encirclement on Tuesday, Mashhour said he was eager for the route to be safe for civilians.

“The most important thing now is breaking the siege, so that those who left the city can come back safely and everything can go back to the way it was,” Mashhour said.

“There are people outside of the city, and we miss them,” the bearded teacher said, wearing a sky-blue shirt and gesturing emotionally.

His wife and children fled Deir Ezzor more than a year ago to the city of Hasakah further north, and Mashhour has not seen them since.

“My wife and kids are on the outside. God willing, my loved ones will return,” Mashhour said.

On Wednesday, de-miners were still working to clear explosives from that route so civilians could cross safely and for long-awaited food and medicine to brought in.

Residents were ecstatic, with men, women and children pouring into the main thoroughfare to show their support.

“Everyone’s mood’s changed. Joy is all around Deir Ezzor. We’re happy about this victory,” said Ahmad, a 20-year-old university student.

With the army’s progress, he said he hoped to resume his studies as soon as possible.

“It’s no secret that we want to eat and be happy, and that we hope stability returns to all of Syria and not just our city,” Ahmad said.

Syrian regime shelling on Wednesday pounded Al-Baghiliya, a Daesh-held suburb of the city’s north, according to a local journalist contributing to AFP.

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