x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 October 2017

Jordan and Russia agree on success of ceasefire in southern Syria

The agreement reached in July and covering Deraa, Quneitra and western Suwaida, was brokered by the US and Russia and has generally held strong.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is received by his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Amman, Jordan September 11, 2017. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is received by his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Amman, Jordan September 11, 2017. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

AMMAN // Jordan and Russia said a ceasefire deal in south-western Syria has been “successful” and will lead to a safe zone being established there.

The agreement reached in July and covering Deraa, Quneitra and western Suwaida, was brokered by the US and Russia and has generally held strong. They hope to expand the deal to include other parts of Syria’s desert to the east near the border with Jordan.

The ceasefire was praised on Monday by Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov after a meeting in Amman.

"We discussed issues pertaining to setting up a de-escalation zone in south-eastern Syria," Mr Lavrov said.

Mr Safadi said Jordan, Russia and the United States were "determined to meet the objective" of setting up a safe zone in the area "as soon as possible".

King Abdullah also discussed with Mr Lavrov the need for a political solution to the Syrian crisis and the significance of the ceasefire deal, the Jordanian Royal Court said.

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Mr Lavrov travelled to Jordan after meetings with the Saudi king and foreign minister in Jeddah on Sunday.

He said Saudi Arabia had assured Russia that it supports a gradual process of negotiating local cease-fires and setting up "de-escalation zones".

“I think Saudi Arabia is determined to solve the Syria crisis," Mr Lavrov said.

While the ceasefire in southern Syria was negotiated between the US and Russia, it is related to the Astana and Geneva talks that seek to end the Syrian civil war now in its seventh year.

Amman and Moscow also announced last month that a joint monitoring centre tasked to control the ceasefire and humanitarian assistance in the southern de-escalation zone was in operation.

Military experts and rebels said the extension of the ceasefire deal that is under discussion possibly stretches from the eastern part of Sweida governorate to Al Tanf, home to a US garrison where a Syrian group has been trained and equipped by the Pentagon in the past two years to fight ISIL.

Ahead of Mr Lavrov’s visit to Jordan, the Assad regime forces and pro-Iranian militias have made significant gains in the desert since last month and seized positions near the Jordanian border that were previously controlled by western backed rebel factions.

The intensified fighting led to the evacuation of the Hadalat camp, home to 5,000 displaced Syrians. Last Wednesday, they were evacuated to Al Rukban camp, where 50,000 Syrians are living in dire conditions.

The camps are located on the Syrian-Jordanian border between two berms in no man’s land separating both countries.

As the war tilts in Bashar Al Assad’s favour, a military command centre in Amman staffed by western and Gulf officials has asked two rebel factions, the Lions of the East and the Forces of the Martyr Ahmad Abdou to retreat to Jordan temporarily and move their families to Al Rukban camp.

A leaked message from the command centre shared last week by activists said the withdrawal was requested because a ceasefire is under discussion to cover the border areas and to create a buffer zone.

The National Coalition of Syria Revolution and Opposition Forces said on Saturday that it feared the request could be part of a deal struck with the “criminal regime” to empty the area of moderate rebel forces.

Saeed Saif, a spokesman for the Forces of the Martyrs of Ahmed Abdou said his faction has agreed to withdraw to Jordan but he doubted that the Syrian regime would abide by ceasefire deal in the country’s desert in the east, particularly after the gains it made.”

“I doubt that the Russian are credible, they are not capable of exerting pressure on the Iranian militias. If the FSA factions withdraw from the east, why would the Syrian regime which made victories negotiate any agreement?

Jordan, which shares a 375km border with Syria, has supported FSA groups in southern Syria as a buffer against extremists and pro-Iranian militias, but with the changing dynamics in Syria, the government said its ties with regime are heading in the right direction.

“Jordan has shifted its policy… and prefers to see the Syrian army on the borders,” Mamoun Abu Nuwar, a retired major general and independent military expert, said

“Jordan is keen to see a settlement to ensure the security of its borders. It would also serve its economic interests particularly if the border crossing opens.

“But neither the Americans nor the Russians have the capabilities to prevent the Iranian expansion.”

Mr Abu Nuwar said once the regime claims Al Tanf, a land corridor linking Iran and Baghdad to Syria and Lebanon will be complete.

“At the end, the Iranians and the Syrian regime will be winners under this scenario,” he added.