The Latest: Syria FM: Jihadis must be purged from safe zones


BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria (all times local):

1:10 p.m.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem says militants must be purged out of safe zones envisaged by an agreement signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran on four so-called “de-escalation” areas.

He says armed Syrian opposition groups must separate themselves from extremist groups such as al-Qaida Syria branch. Al-Moallem says “it is the duty” of these armed groups to force the militants from their areas so that they can become safe.

He added that it’s also the duty of the agreement’s guarantors to help the armed factions push the militants from their areas.

Al-Moallem said the Syrian army’s military priority now is to liberate areas in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border held by the Islamic State group.

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12:40 p.m.

Syria’s foreign minister says there will be no international forces under U.N. supervision as part of a deal struck by Russia, Iran and Turkey last week on setting up four safe zones in Syria.

Walid al-Moallem told reporters at a news conference in the Syrian capital on Monday that the agreement signed in the Kazakh capital, Astana, stipulates for the deployment of “military police” at observation centers in four so-called de-escalation zones.

He did not elaborate on who the military police would be but appeared to be inferring to Russian observers already on the ground in Syria.

Al-Moallem reiterated his government’s commitment to the Astana deal but says it is “premature” to talk about whether it’s successful.

He says “there are still logistical details that will be discussed in Damascus and we will see the extent of commitment to this agreement.”

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10:30 a.m.

Syria’s state TV and an opposition monitoring group say hundreds of rebels and their families have begun boarding buses to leave a besieged rebel-held neighborhood of the capital, Damascus, under an agreement between the warring sides.

The evacuation from Damascus’ northeastern Barzeh neighborhood is the first such population movement in this area.

Over the past months, tens of thousands of people living in besieged areas around Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo — Syria’s largest city — have surrendered after prolonged sieges in exchange for safe relocation to opposition-held areas elsewhere in the country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hundreds are expected to leave Barzeh to head to the country’s north. It says around 1,500 are expected to leave on Monday and more stages will follow in coming weeks.