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US Security Chief Says Syria Cease-fire ‘Important Step’ As Start Nears


Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017.
Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s security adviser says a cease-fire that has taken effect in southwest Syria is an “important step” toward eventual peace throughout the country.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday that at noon local time Sunday, "a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria will begin to take effect."

McMasater called the cease-fire “a priority” for the United States and said the Trump administration was “encouraged by the progress made to reach this agreement."

"The United States remains committed to defeating [Islamic State], helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering and enabling people to return to their homes. This agreement is an important step toward these common goals," he said.

The decision to impose a cease-fire zone was announced Friday at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany, and involves the United States, Russia and Jordan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the cease-fire would be supervised by Russian military police "in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans."

Russian President Vladimir Putin told a news conference on Saturday in Hamburg that the cease-fire deal was the result of the United States' altering its stance and becoming more pragmatic about the situation there.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the agreement "is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria."

The cease-fire is to cover the provinces of Daraa, Sweida and Quneitra in the southwest along the border with Jordan.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a day ahead of the start of the cease-fire that the areas involved were relatively calm except for sporadic shelling by Syrian government forces on two villages in the Daraa region.

Separately, Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s six-year civil war, has been in talks with Turkey and Iran over four “de-escalation zones” in Syria. A decision on the exact makeup of the zones and on which forces will monitor them has yet to be finalized.

Similar cease-fires between the government and rebel forces have broken down in the past.

Along with Russia, Iran also backs Assad, while the United States and Turkey support different rebel groups fighting Assad’s government.

The civil war in Syria broke out in 2011 when Assad cracked down on anti-government protesters.

More than 310,000 people are estimated to have been killed and millions have been displaced.