Hollande and Putin meet on Syria

Leaders attempt to narrow differences, also discuss France's conditions for cooperation with Russia

PARIS • French President Francois Hollande and Russia's Vladimir Putin had an in-depth discussion on Syria yesterday in which they "tried to narrow differences on political transition", an aide to Mr Hollande said after the two leaders met in Paris.

The aide did not say if they succeeded in any way in the 1 hour 15 minute conversation, which took place ahead of a meeting the two men would have with the leaders of Germany and Ukraine aimed at resolving the Ukraine crisis.

They discussed the three conditions required by France for cooperation with Russia in Syria, the aide said. France would not agree to work with Russia until the latter agrees to attack only Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and Al-Qaeda; ensures the safety of civilians; and puts in place a political transition that will see the departure of Moscow's ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the aide said.

Frame grabs taken from a video released by Russia shows Russian jets hitting a target in Syria which the Kremlin says includes a list of well-known militant organisations and not just ISIS. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Hollande and Mr Putin both looked stern as the French leader received his Russian counterpart in the yard of the Elysee Palace, exchanging a couple of terse handshakes in front of photographers and cameramen.

Russia bombed Syria for a third day yesterday, mainly hitting areas held by rival insurgent groups rather than ISIS, which it said it was targeting, according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

However, at least 12 members of ISIS have been killed in Russia's air strikes on the extremist faction's main Syrian bastion, the Observatory said. Russian aerial attacks also targeted the Army of Conquest, the most powerful Islamist coalition taking on Syrian regime forces in the country's north-west, a security source on the ground said.

Russia's defence ministry confirmed it had carried out strikes on Raqa province on Thursday, as well as raids on the provinces of Aleppo in the north, Idlib in the north- west, and Hama in the centre.

The strikes are the first time Russia has targeted ISIS' stronghold in Raqa province, the de facto Syrian capital of its self-styled "caliphate".

Moscow's defence ministry said yesterday that its war planes had "conducted 18 sorties on 12 positions held by the ISIS terrorist group in Syria" since Thursday.

The statement said Russian raids destroyed "a command post and communications centre" held by ISIS in Daret Ezza in Aleppo province. They are Russia's first strikes on the province, which borders Turkey to the north.

The ministry said its raids had also "completely destroyed" bunkers and weapons depots in Maaret al-Numan and Habeet in Idlib province.

Russian aerial attacks also struck "an ISIS command post" in Kafr Zeita in Hama province.

According to the Observatory, however, none of these areas is controlled by ISIS.

Kafr Zeita is held by Islamist rebels, while the areas in Idlib and Aleppo are held by a militant group that rivals ISIS, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

The latest strikes came as US and other officials expressed concern that the Russian air force is concentrating its attacks on groups opposed to the embattled regime of Mr Assad, instead of specifically on ISIS.

But Moscow insists it is targeting the ISIS group and "other terrorist groups".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'Hollande and Putin meet on Syria'. Subscribe