After safe zones take effect in Syria, fighting breaks in Hama

The rebel-held Syrian town of Latamneh was hit earlier in the war by Russian air strikes

Syrian government forces and rebels clashed in the northwestern province of Hama on Friday shortly after a Russian-led deal to establish de-escalation zones took effect, a monitor and a rebel official said, Reuters reported.

Fighter jets fired at the rebel-held village of al-Zalakiyat and nearby positions in the Hama countryside, where the combatants exchanged shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to Reuters.

The Britain-based war monitoring group said government forces shelled the nearby towns of Kafr Zita and Latamneh. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian army.

Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group based in Hama, confirmed that fighting had broken out after midnight, Reuters indicated.

Iran and Turkey agreed on Thursday to a Russian proposal for de-escalation zones in Syria, but the memorandum the three guarantors signed has not been made public, leaving its details unclear, added Reuters.

The zones appear intended to halt conflict in specific areas between government forces and rebels, and would potentially be policed by foreign troops, Reuters said.

Reuters also reported that the Russian defence ministry had said the agreement would come into force as of midnight on Friday. The first and largest zone in northern Syria includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia with a population of over 1 million, Russian news agencies cited the ministry as saying.

The Syrian government supported the de-escalation plan, but said it would continue to fight what it termed terrorist groups. Rebels rejected the deal and said they would not recognize Iran as a guarantor of any ceasefire plan, according to Reuters.

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