US, Russia still trying to hammer out Syria truce

A child being rescued from the rubble of a building in the Qatarji neighbourhood of Aleppo that was damaged in an air strike on Wednesday. US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an immediate grounding of all military aircraft in "key areas"
A child being rescued from the rubble of a building in the Qatarji neighbourhood of Aleppo that was damaged in an air strike on Wednesday. US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an immediate grounding of all military aircraft in "key areas" of Syria in an effort to save a deal with Russia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Assad warns conflict will drag on and casts doubt on US intentions in his country

MOSCOW • Just hours after they clashed over the issue in a United Nations meeting, the United States and Russia held another round of talks on the Syrian conflict, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Mr Sergey Lavrov, talked first by telephone on Wednesday "at the initiative of the Americans", the ministry said in a message on Facebook.

The diplomats then met, accompanied by their delegations, "to continue discussing the problem of a settlement (of the conflict) in Syria".

The two countries were due to chair a meeting in New York yesterday of the 23-nation International Syria Support Group, which brings together world powers with a stake in the civil war.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with AP News that was broadcast yesterday, said Syria's war will "drag on" as long as it is part of a global conflict funded and interfered in by other countries.

He said: "When you talk about it as part of a global conflict and a regional conflict, when you have many external factors that you don't control, it's going to drag on."

Mr Assad also cast doubt on the intentions of the US in Syria, saying it "doesn't have the will" to fight militants. "I don't believe the US will be ready to join Russia in fighting terrorists in Syria... the United States is not genuine regarding having a cessation of violence in Syria."

A UN aid convoy was due to deliver aid yesterday to besieged areas near Damascus amid fierce fighting after a 48-hour suspension to review security guarantees in the wake of a deadly attack on relief trucks near Aleppo, a UN spokesman said.

On Wednesday, as air strikes pounded Aleppo following the collapse of a ceasefire, Mr Kerry called for an immediate grounding of all military aircraft in what he described as "key areas" of Syria - including where aid is delivered - as a last-ditch effort to save a deal with Russia to reduce violence and ultimately halt the war.

Making an unusually pointed and partly unscripted speech at a UN Security Council meeting on the Syria crisis, Mr Kerry angrily accused Russia of living "in a parallel universe" and allowing Mr Assad to extend "the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II".

On Monday, a convoy of trucks taking aid to the besieged city of Aleppo was destroyed in a deadly air strike, which US officials blamed on Russia. The Russians have denied the claims.

The attack on the humanitarian convoy, a war crime, came after a US air strike on Syrian forces that killed more than 60 people and which the Pentagon quickly acknowledged was a mistake. Mr Kerry on Wednesday said it was one thing to mistakenly bomb "people running around with guns on the ground" and another to strike "trucks in a convoy with big UN markings all over them".

In his address to the Security Council on Wednesday, Mr Lavrov said there would be "no more unilateral pauses" by Syrian government forces, adding that opposition fighters on the ground had previously used those ceasefires to re-group.

Heavy fighting gripped the outskirts of Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo yesterday after air strikes pounded rebel-held districts through the night, triggering major fires. Rebel officials and rescue workers said incendiary bombs were among the weapons used. Fighting was also reported in the central provinces of Homs and Hama.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'US, Russia still trying to hammer out Syria truce'. Print Edition | Subscribe