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Fighting continues in Syrian 'safe zones'

So-called "de-escalation zones" have come into effect in parts of Syria, but conflicting reports have emerged about their impact. Monitoring groups say government forces continue to shell opposition-held towns.

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How safe are Syrian safe zones?

Relative calm prevailed Saturday in some parts of Syria after a deal signed by President Bashar al-Assad's backers - Russia and Iran - and rebel supporter - Turkey - to create four "de-escalation zones" came into effect at midnight on Friday.

The aim of the agreement is to reduce violence amid the ongoing six-year war in the Middle Eastern country that has left more than 400,000 people dead and millions displaced.

Watch video 00:37

Russia: Syria safe zones to be closed to US planes

The United States was not party to the deal, whereas Syrian rebels rejected the agreement saying it lacked legitimacy. The opposition was also vocally against the participation of Iran, which it accused of fueling sectarian violence in the conflict.

Conflicting reports

According to the AFP news agency, only sporadic skirmishes and shelling occurred on Saturday in parts of the country that are included in so-called "safe zones."

But the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad's forces continued to target rebel positions in the opposition-held town of al-Latamana in central Syria.

Government forces also shelled opposition-controlled neighborhoods near the capital Damascus.

But Observatory chief, Rami Abdel Rahman, said that overall "violence was sharply reduced in the areas covered by the deal."

A spokesman for the Pentagon said Friday the "safe zone" plan wouldn't impact the US fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group, saying it would continue its air campaign against the militants.

"The coalition will continue to target [IS] wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary," said Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway.

The United States participates in separate UN-backed peace talks from those in Kazakhstan that have deadlocked despite several rounds of negotiations. A new round of talks is expected later this month.

Hoping for peace

The four so-called "safe zones" are spread across Syria. The first and biggest is in the north of the country, which includes Idlib province and three districts bordering it. The second zone is in the central Homs province; the third covers the region to the east of Damascus; and the fourth in the south. All these areas are largely controlled by opposition groups.

People in "safe zones" are hoping the deal would finally bring peace to their country.

"We are tired. We used to live under one tyrant, now we live under many. The 'safe zones' are a great idea. I hope they work," said a Syrian citizen.

The Syrian government says it supports the de-escalation plan, but it has also made clear that it will continue to fight what it deems to be a terrorist group.

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Russia-Turkey relations 'normalized'

shs/se (AFP, AP, dpa)

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