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The Latest: Russia-backed Syria deal enters into effect

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff, speaks to the media in the Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 5, 2017. Russia's military says the agreement setting up four de-escalation zones in Syria will go into effect at midnight. The military also says the deal, which was signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Kazakhstan the day before, could be extended to more areas of the war-torn country. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments regarding Syria (all times local):

12:10 a.m.

A Russia-backed deal to set up “de-escalation zones” in mostly opposition-held areas in Syria has come into effect.

The implementation of the deal, backed by Turkey and Iran but opposed by Syria’s opposition, began at midnight Friday.

The deal lacks specifics. But for the first time in attempts to install a cease-fire in Syria, it envisages armed monitors on the ground. The armed monitors are expected to be from Russia, Iran and Turkey. But it is not yet clear when and where they will deploy. The Russian deal, signed in Astana on Thursday, says maps of the new “de-escalation zones” will be ready by June 4.

The Syrian opposition has criticized the deal, saying it lacks legitimacy. The U.S. was not part of negotiating the deal and it said there is “reason to be cautious.”

The U.N. supports the deal.

The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were no reports of violations in the first minutes past midnight.

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10 p.m.

A Syrian opposition coalition says the Russia-backed deal to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria lacks legitimacy and seeks to divide the country.

The statement was issued late on Friday by the Western- and Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee.

It denounced the deal, which is expected to come in effect at midnight, as an attempt to “legitimize” Iranian presence in Syria — a reference to Tehran-backed fighters who are siding with the Syrian government in the war. The opposition says Iran fuels the sectarian nature of the conflict.

The committee said the deal is an attempt to give Syrian government troops military victories they could not achieve on the battleground by neutralizing rebel-held areas.

HNC’s strongly worded statement says only the United Nations should be entrusted with talks to deal with the Syrian conflict.

It also called on the U.S. and other Arab allied countries, to take “firm stances” to prevent the implementation of the deal.

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6:10 p.m.

The Pentagon says the de-escalation agreement will not affect the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Marine Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Friday that “the coalition will continue to target ISIS wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary.” ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Sunni militant group.

Rankine-Galloway noted that the U.S. government is not party to the agreement, which was struck during cease-fire talks in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

The United States was represented at the talks but was not part of the agreement signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The Pentagon spokesman also said that the U.S. continues “to effectively de-conflict coalition operations, however, we are not going to discuss the specifics of how we de-conflict operations in the highly congested and complex battlespace in Syria.”

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5:40 p.m.

An official with Russia’s military general staff says countries other than Russia, Turkey and Iran may have a role in securing four safe zones agreed on at Syria cease-fire talks the previous day.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told reporters on Friday that the “work of checkpoints and observation posts, as well as the management of security zones, will be carried out by the personnel and formations of Russia, Turkey and Iran.”

He added that, “by mutual agreement of the guarantor countries, the forces of other parties can be enlisted.”

He did not elaborate further or suggest which other countries could take part in enforcing the deal.

The agreement on four de-escalation zones was struck during the talks in Kazakhstan but Syrian rebel representatives have expressed doubts that it will work.

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5:25 p.m.

Russia’s military says it wants to restore an agreement with the United States to coordinate air operations over Syria and reduce the risk of aircraft colliding.

Russia suspended the agreement a month ago following a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to a deadly chemical gas attack that has been blamed on the Syrian government forces.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of Russia’s General Staff told reporters on Friday that Russian officers planned to discuss the restoration of the agreement with their American counterparts soon.

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5:10 p.m.

Russia’s military says the agreement setting up four de-escalation zones in Syria will go into effect at midnight.

The military also said on Friday that the deal, which was signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Kazakhstan the day before, could be extended to more areas of the war-torn country.

The statements came as officers from Russia’s Defense Ministry and General Staff briefed reporters on Friday on the details of the agreement.

Syrian rebel and opposition representatives who attended the talks in Kazakh capital, Astana, have expressed doubts that the agreement can be implemented and have denounced Iran’s role as a guarantor of the deal.

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4:45 p.m.

A Syrian rebel spokesman who attended cease-fire talks in Kazakhstan says Syrian opposition fighters have “fears and doubts” over a deal that was adopted at the meeting the previous day.

Turkey, Iran and Russia signed an agreement in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Thursday, setting up four “de-escalation” zones in war-torn Syria.

But Osama Abo Zayd, a spokesman for the Syrian military factions at the talks, told The Associated Press on Friday that it’s “incomprehensible” for Iran to play the role of a guarantor of the deal.

Abo Zayd says the Shiite-majority country is fueling the sectarian nature of the conflict and that “Iran can’t play the role of a peace maker.”

He says a cease-fire is unsustainable in the presence of the Iranian-backed militias in Syria, accusing them of also forcefully displacing people to replace them with a loyal population.

Abo Zayd says rebel leaders are now meeting to come up with a formal stance on the Russian proposal.

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1:25 p.m.

An international team set up to apportion blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria has started investigating the deadly April 4 sarin gas attack in Idlib province.

Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Ahmet Uzumcu told The Associated Press on Friday that the team is already working and he was due to speak to its leader later in the day.

The probe by experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations will come under intense scrutiny amid widespread claims that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for the deaths of dozens of men, women and children in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Assad denies responsibility.

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11:05 a.m.

Russia’s representative at the Syria talks says the “de-escalation zones” will be closed to military aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition.

Alexander Lavrentyev’s comments Friday come a day after talks in Kazakhstan, where Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to establish the zones in Syria. Under the Russian plan, President Bashar Assad’s air force would halt flights over the designated areas across the war-torn country.

Lavrentyev suggested that all military aircraft, including Russian and Turkish, are prohibited. Full details of Thursday’s agreement have not yet been released.

Lavrentyev, whose remarks were carried by Russian news agencies, said U.S.-led coalition aircraft would be able to operate against the Islamic State group in specific areas, but the “de-escalation zones” were now closed to their flights.

The agreement is the latest attempt to reduce violence in the Arab country.

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