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Thursday, October 13, 2016, 10:27

Kerry, Lavrov to resume talks on Syria

By Reuters

Kerry, Lavrov to resume talks on Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United States Secretary of State John Kerry speak during the International Syria Support Group meeting, Sept 22, 2016 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

MOSCOW/BEIRUT – US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Switzerland on Saturday to discuss Syria, officials said on Wednesday, as a devastating bombing campaign of the city of Aleppo intensified.

The Syrian government launched an assault to capture rebel-held areas of Aleppo last month with Russian air support and Iranian-backed militias, a week into a ceasefire agreed by Washington and Moscow.

Kerry broke off talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week over the offensive, which has included air strikes on hospitals that the United States and France said amounted to war crimes for which Syria and Russia were responsible.

Foreign ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran may also attend the meeting on Saturday

The resumption of talks, despite the offensive, was a sign of the lack of options facing Western nations over the Syria conflict, where they worry scaled-up arms supplies for the rebels could end up in the hands of jihadist groups.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Kerry and Lavrov would meet in the Swiss city of Lausanne to consider steps towards settling the conflict. The meeting was expected to include foreign ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The US State Department said Kerry had called for the meeting and would attend, but declined to say what foreign ministers other than Lavrov had been invited or would attend.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington remained committed to a "deep multilateral engagement" to reduce the violence in Syria which would "necessarily" involve Russia too.

"But it is no longer in the context of trying to broker this agreement that would ... hold out the prospect of US military cooperation with Russia. That's something that Russia has lost... the credibility to be able to try to agree to," he said.

On Wednesday, 25 people were killed by heavy air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the Civil Defenze, a rescue service working in rebel-held areas, said on Twitter, adding that 15 of them were killed at a market place in the Fardous district.

The Syrian army has denied targeting civilians.


A Syrian military source said warplanes had struck several locations to the south and southwest of Aleppo but Syrian and Russian officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the market place attack.

It was the second day of heavy air strikes after a lull of several days which the Syrian army said was designed to allow civilians to leave.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, said it had documented the deaths of 55 people killed in escalating bombardment of eastern Aleppo in the last 48 hours.

The war has killed more than 300,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis, allowed for the rise of Islamic State and drawn in regional and major powers.

Assad aims to take back all of Aleppo, which was Syria's biggest city before the outbreak of war in 2011.

Last Saturday Russia vetoed a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution that would have demanded an immediate end to air strikes and military flights over Aleppo.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused France of deliberately luring Moscow into vetoing the resolution and suggested it was doing the bidding of the United States.

Putin later told France's TF1 television channel that the West, especially the United States, was responsible for Syria's plight and he dismissed the Western accusations of Russian and Syrian war crimes as "political rhetoric".

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