Russia announces 'de-escalation zone' north of Syria's city of Homs

MOSCOW/CAIRO (Reuters) - Russia’s defence ministry and Syria’s opposition have agreed to set up a “de-escalation” zone north of the battered city of Homs, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Russia’s state

FILE PHOTO - A general view the Syrian city of Homs, Syria December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Rossiya 24 TV on Thursday.

A ceasefire in the area was to take affect on Thursday, he said, and will cover 84 settlements populated by more than 147,000 people.

Homs was an opposition stronghold in Syria’s civil war, but fell to government forces in 2015.

Egyptian state news agency MENA said Cairo had hosted meetings between Moscow and Syrian rebel factions.

Al-Ghad, a Syrian political opposition group based in Cairo, said it brokered the deal between rebels and the Damascus government, sponsored by Egypt and Russia.

The agreement covers three rebel-held towns and dozens of villages north of Homs city, which is under government control, it said.

The group, headed by Ahmad Jarba, had said it mediated a similar deal in Cairo last month for Eastern Ghouta, the last major rebel stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, said it had deployed its military police in Eastern Ghouta in July to try to enforce the de-escalation zone.

Several attempts at a lasting ceasefire in western Syria, where rebels have lost ground to government forces and their allies, have often collapsed with both sides trading the blame.

Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo, Maria Kiselyova and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow Editing by Jeremy Gaunt