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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Truce in Syria's Homs province after Russia strikes deal for safe zone 

The zone is the third to be established in Syria under a Russian-led initiative aimed at halting the fighting in four areas between the forces of President Bashar Al Assad and rebels.

Syrian women and a small girl walk down a street in rebel-held town of Talbiseh, north of Homs in central Syria on August 3, 2017. A ceasefire between government forces and rebels went into effect in part of central Syria on August 3, 2017 after Russia struck a deal with the opposition on a safe zone in the northern parts of Homs province. Mahmoud Taha / AFP
Syrian women and a small girl walk down a street in rebel-held town of Talbiseh, north of Homs in central Syria on August 3, 2017. A ceasefire between government forces and rebels went into effect in part of central Syria on August 3, 2017 after Russia struck a deal with the opposition on a safe zone in the northern parts of Homs province. Mahmoud Taha / AFP

Syrian regime forces and "moderate" rebels will cease combat in northern parts of Homs province on Thursday after Russia struck a deal with the opposition on implementing a third safe zone, Moscow said.

"From 1200 local time, units of the moderate opposition and government forces will completely stop firing," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Mr Konashenkov said Moscow and Syrian opposition groups had reached an agreement on the "operational details" of a "de-escalation zone" north of the city of Homs at talks in Cairo on July 31.

The zone is the third to be established in Syria under a Russian-led initiative aimed at halting the fighting in four areas between the forces of President Bashar Al Assad and rebels. It covers 84 towns and villages with a total population of 147,000 people.

Russia has been behind a drive to pacify Syria since the start of this year after tipping the six-year conflict in favour of Mr Assad with its game-changing military intervention in 2015.

Russian military police will set up two checkpoints and three observation posts on Friday along the boundaries of the zone dividing the two forces. Mr Konashenkov said rebels had agreed to "unblock" part of a road running through the safe zone between the cities of Homs and Hama and a "Committee for National Justice" made up of rebels and local groups would help oversee the implementation of the plan.

The northern parts of Homs province were recently being subjected to shelling by regime forces and intermittent air strikes. Towns in the area were among the first to fall to Mr Assad's opponents in 2012 after a revolt against his rule. They have remained outside the control of extremist groups including ISIL, which do not fall under the Russian deal.

Last month, Russia struck a deal with the United States and Jordan for a ceasefire in another southern zone, where Moscow has now deployed its military police. Under a second agreement sealed with rebels in July, Russian forces also set up two checkpoints and four observation posts in an area covering the conflict-ravaged region Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

Under a plan hammered out between Russia, Turkey and Iran at peace talks in Kazakhstan one more safe zone is supposed to be established in the northwestern Idlib region. However, negotiations on that zone have been complicated by conflicting interests between the international powers. Moscow has been carrying out a bombing campaign to support regime forces, while Mr Assad's international opponents have been striking ISIL from the air as part of a US-led coalition.

Russia is planning a fresh round of talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana in late August to thrash out more details on its peace plan.