Syria rebels urge Obama to stand up to Russians
Rebel groups have appealed to President Obama to do more to stop Russian bombing raids in Syria as pressure mounted on Washington ahead of a new round of peace talks this week.
World powers are meeting in Germany today to try to revive the first effort in two years to negotiate an end to the war after it faltered in the starting blocks last week.
But with Moscow backing a Syrian government push for all-out military victory against Western-backed rebels, Western officials and opposition delegates hold out little hope.
Opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat said Mr Obama could stop the Russian attacks, although he did not spell out how.
"If he is willing to save our children, it is really the time now to say 'no' to these strikes in Syria," he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more humanitarian aid access ahead of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Munich.
Moscow said Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed yesterday on the need for a ceasefire in Syria and the provision of humanitarian aid to blockaded areas.
But one UN diplomatic source said Russia was "stringing Kerry along" in order to provide diplomatic cover for Moscow's real goal - to help President Bashar al-Assad win on the battlefield instead of compromising at the negotiating table.
"It's clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn't want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win," said the diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A senior adviser to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, told Reuters in Damascus on Tuesday that there would be no let-up in the army advance, which aimed to recapture the city of Aleppo from rebels and secure Syria's border with Turkey.
Asked how soon a ceasefire could be put in place, a Russian diplomat said: "Maybe March, I think so."
The 'Washington Post' said Moscow had sent a letter to Washington this week proposing to stop its bombing on March 1, allowing it to continue for another three weeks.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman planned to visit Moscow in mid-March, Russia's RIA news agency said, a meeting that would bring together the main sponsors of the opposing sides.
Riyadh said it was willing to commit special forces to Syria should a US-led coalition deploy ground troops against Isil.
Saudi-backed rebels said they would go to Munich but would only go to UN peace talks in Geneva later this month if Russia stopped bombarding their positions and humanitarian aid reached civilians.