Syria's government has dismissed the idea of UN peacekeepers patrolling four safe zones as part of a recently brokered deal. Damascus also said it is "premature" to talk about whether the deal will succeed.
Walid al-Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, explained the decision regarding the recently-brokered deal involving four "de-escalation" zones during a press conference in Damascus on Monday.
"The Russian side stressed that military police will be deployed and not peacekeepers under the supervision of the United Nations," to oversee the implementation of the deal, al-Moallem told reporters.
"We do not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement," he said while reiterating the government's commitment to the deal.
The Syrian official noted that it was "premature" to talk about whether the agreement would be successful, but noted that the government would "harshly" retaliate against any violation by rebels while the deal was in force. Neither the Syrian government nor the opposition have signed the agreement.
A spokesman for the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, declined to comment on the minister's remarks.
A shaky agreement
Russia, Turkey and Iran struck a deal last week to set up four safe zones where the opposition and government forces will halt hostilities. The agreement envisions safe areas in northwestern, northern, central and southern Syria as a temporary measure that could be in place for six months. Under the deal, Russia, Iran and Turkey have until June 4 to agree on the exact boundaries.
The deal signed in the Kazakh capital Astana also stipulates that these "de-escalation" zones will include checkpoints to ensure the safe movement of unarmed civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid. The memorandum did not specifically mention the use of military police.
Evacuations begin in Damascus suburb
Meanwhile on Monday, the evacuation of fighters and their families from the eastern outskirts of Damascus began, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Some 22 buses had entered the area to pick up evacuees. However, the organization reported that only four buses had left the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, which has been under siege for the past month.
An estimated 1,500 people are also expected to be evacuated to Idlib, an opposition stronghold near the Turkish border.
Negotiations are ongoing for a similar deal in the Damascus district of Qabun as well as the Yarmuk camp.
Over 320,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 following peaceful demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
rs/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)