Thursday 30 March 2017

Russia blames West for delay in Aleppo talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu

Katya Goubova in Moscow

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said a Western failure to rein in violent Islamists in Syria had indefinitely delayed the resumption of peace talks.

Mr Shoigu said rebels backed by Western governments had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks.

"As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period," Mr Shoigu (pictured) said yesterday.

Separately, a Kremlin spokesman said a temporary pause in Russian and Syrian government air strikes on Aleppo was in force for now, but could not be extended if the rebels in the city did not halt their attacks.

Insurgents launched an offensive last week against government-held western Aleppo, more than a month into an operation by the army to retake the city's rebel-held eastern districts, which it had already put under siege.

The United Nations said yesterday that all sides fighting over Aleppo may be committing war crimes through indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas.

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war, and its military operation in Syria, now in its second year, has shored up Assad's position. That has put Moscow on a collision course with Washington and its allies who want Assad removed from office.

Since October 18, Russia and its Syrian allies say they have halted air attacks in Aleppo. Western governments had alleged that the strikes had been killing civilians in large numbers, an allegation Moscow denied.

But the pause in the air attacks on Aleppo is fragile: Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month its continuation depended on the behaviour of moderate rebel groups in Aleppo and their Western backers.

Mr Shoigu, who was addressing a meeting of Russian military officials, railed against those rebels and their backers, saying they had squandered a chance for peace talks.

"It is time for our Western colleagues to determine who they are fighting against: terrorists or Russia," Mr Shoigu said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

Irish Independent

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