Attacks on Aleppo continue as US and Russian talks resume, but new truce appears unlikely

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 11:45pm

The US, Russia and other international players in Syria’s civil war searched once again for a

diplomatic process that could succeed where last month’s collapsed ceasefire failed. With the Syrian and Russian governments pressing on with an offensive against Washington-backed militants, no one was predicting a quick breakthrough.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading the new effort, joined by a familiar cast that includes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the top diplomats of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan.

Days of deadly airstrikes in Aleppo prompted Kerry last month to end bilateral US-Russian engagement on Syria, including discussions over a proposed military alliance against Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria. Last week he accused Russia of war crimes for allegedly targeting hospitals and civilian infrastructure.

Kerry was reunited with Lavrov at the lakeside Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne and had scheduled a one-on-one meeting with him before the larger gathering. US hopes of any diplomatic progress appeared to rest squarely on Russia’s cooperation.

The conflict has killed as many as half a million people since 2011, contributed to Europe’s refugee crisis and allowed Islamic State to carve out territory for itself.

Residents of opposition-held eastern Aleppo have faced daily violence as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government seeks to take full control of the country’s largest city. In an interview this week with a Russian media outlet, Assad said a military victory in Aleppo would provide the Syrian army a “springboard” for liberating other parts of the country from the Western-backed rebels.

President Barack Obama and the Pentagon have said they

oppose any US military strikes against Assad’s military. The US is uneasy with providing more

advanced weaponry to the anti-Assad rebels because of their links to extremist groups.

Obama directed his national security team on Friday to renew diplomatic efforts to reduce the bloodshed in Syria. The White House said it hoped the larger discussions with Russia and other key governments would “encourage all sides to support a more durable and sustainable diminution of violence”.

Russia says it also wants a ceasefire, but describes the US and its partners as the problem.

On Friday, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador, said this weekend’s talks are focused on getting US-backed so-called moderate militants to break ranks with al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

But with rebel-held Aleppo poised to fall, potentially in weeks, there is deep scepticism that the Syrian and Russian governments want to stop the fighting just yet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin received backing for his Syria campaign from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“India recognised [the] Russian side’s effort towards achieving a political and negotiated settlement of the situation in Syria,” Modi said yesterday in Goa, where the two leaders met for talks.

India has enjoyed a long strong relationship with Russia dating back to the cold war.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse