Talks under way to extend temporary Syrian ceasefire
Russia announced yesterday that talks were taking place to include Aleppo in a temporary lull in fighting declared by the Syrian army in some western parts of the country, a sign of intensified efforts to halt the surge of violence in its former commercial capital.
The United States said stopping the bloodshed in Aleppo, which has been at the centre of an escalation of violence that all but destroyed a wider ceasefire deal and broke up peace talks in Geneva, was a top priority.
Nearly 10 days of bombardments by both the government side and insurgents in the city of Aleppo has killed more than 250 people, a monitoring group says, confounding hopes of an end to five years of war.
Moscow and Washington brokered the February 27 ceasefire deal, which applied to western Syria but excluded al Qaeda and Isil fighters. World powers and the United Nations have been trying to salvage that truce.
Syria's army announced late on Friday a "regime of calm", or lull in fighting, which applied to Damascus and some of its outskirts, and parts of northwestern coastal province Latakia, but excluded Aleppo.
A senior Russian defence ministry official said yesterday that negotiations were taking place to "establish a regime of calm also in Aleppo province", Interfax news agency reported.
The official did not say who was negotiating on Aleppo.
He said the lull in fighting had been extended around Damascus for another 24 hours. It had been respected in both Damascus and Latakia, the Russian official said.
Syria's army confirmed the extension of the lull around Damascus, but did not mention Aleppo.
Late on Saturday a number of rebel groups rejected the partial "regime of calm" in Damascus and Latakia, saying any truce must include all areas where the government and main opposition were fighting, as under the February deal.
"We will not accept under any circumstances... regional ceasefires," they said, adding that they would respond as "one bloc" to attacks in any area of the country.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was due to travel to Geneva yesterday to discuss Syria with his Jordanian and Saudi counterparts and the UN's special envoy, said efforts to revive a cessation of hostilities must include Aleppo.
The US state department said Washington wanted Russia to put pressure on its ally President Bashar al-Assad to stop "indiscriminate aerial attacks" in Aleppo, which has long been split between government- and opposition-held areas of control. Both sides have bombed residential areas for nearly 10 days, killing more than 250, including at least 40 children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The monitoring group said it had recorded no air strikes or shellings inside the city early yesterday, after some fire overnight.