Kerry and Lavrov open Syria talks as countries trade barbs

MUNICH -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opened talks Thursday to try and reconcile deep differences over a proposed ceasefire for the Syrian civil war.

See Full Article

They met as other U.S. and Russian officials traded allegations over bombing of civilian areas in the besieged city of Aleppo.

Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire, but Washington believes that will only give Moscow and the Syrian government three weeks to crush moderate rebel groups. The U.S. has countered with a demand for an immediate truce.

As the meeting began at a Munich hotel, Kerry declined to speculate on whether an agreement could be reached.

"We're going to have a serious conversation about all aspects about what's happening in Syria," he said. "Obviously, at some point in time, we want to make progress on the issues of humanitarian access and cease-fire. We will talk about all aspects of the conflict."

Lavrov said that Russia had already submitted a "quite specific" proposal, and "we will wait for the American response before we take it to the ISSG." The ISSG is the International Syria Support Group, a collection of about 20 countries with interests in the conflict, that was due to meet later Thursday in Munich.

The talk of new cease-fire plans comes as the U.S., Russia and more than a dozen other countries meet to try to halt five years of civil war. The conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe's biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Russia has said it is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's government as part of a counterterrorism campaign. But the West claims the majority of Russia's strikes are targeting moderate groups that are opposed to Assad and the Islamic State.

The most recent Russian-backed offensive, near Aleppo, prompted opposition groups to walk out of peace talks last month in Geneva, while forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee toward the Turkish border.

One U.S. official familiar with the situation said the U.S. can't accept Russia's March 1 cease-fire offer because opposition forces could suffer irreversible losses in northern and southern Syria before the cease-fire ever takes hold.

That official and another said the U.S. counterproposal is simple: A cease-fire that is effective immediately and is accompanied by full humanitarian access to Syria's besieged civilian centres. The officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about private diplomatic discussions in the run-up to the Munich conference.

The talks got off to a sour note as Russian and the U.S. officials exchanged accusations over the bombing of hospitals in Aleppo.

The Russian Ministry of Defence rejected a Pentagon claim Wednesday that Russian aircraft hit two hospitals in Aleppo, instead countering that it was U.S. aircraft that operated over the city Wednesday.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday that Russian jets hit targets no closer than 20 kilometres away from Aleppo. Konashenkov said that two A-10 ground attack jets of the U.S. Air Force flew in from Turkey Wednesday and attacked Aleppo.

The Baghdad spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group refuted the Russian claims and said the incident was an example of the Russian "indiscriminate" use of force.

A senior State Department official also said claims made by Russian officials of U.S. airstrikes in Aleppo were false.

In the latest developments on the ground, Kurdish fighters and their allies captured a military air base in northern Syria under the cover of airstrikes as Russia announced that its air force carried out more than 500 combat missions in Syria over the past week.

Syrian troops launched a wide offensive in northern Syria earlier in February under the cover of Russian airstrikes during which they were able to capture areas from opposition fighters and now are trying to regain rebel-held neighbourhoods in the northern city of Aleppo.

Syria's Kurds have been among the most effective forces battling the Islamic State group, but have remained largely neutral in the conflict between President Bashar Assad and the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

But on Wednesday, the main Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, launched an attack along with some Arab allies against the Mannagh military air base and captured it later in the day, according to a rebel commander and an opposition activist group. The Kurds appeared to be exploiting the chaos to expand their nearby enclave, known as Afrin.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the offensive came as warplanes believed to be Russian carried out 30 airstrikes in the area. It said the YPG and allied forces also captured a nearby village, also called Mannagh.

In Moscow, Konashenkov also said that since Feb. 4, Russian warplanes carried out 510 combat missions and destroyed 888 "terrorist facilities" in several Syrian provinces including Aleppo, Daraa and Latakia where the government offensive is concentrated.

"We have not witnessed such bombardment since the revolution began," said Abu Thabet, referring to the start of the uprising against Assad's government in March 2011. The uprising later turned into a civil war that has killed at least 250,000 people.

Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Magician Penn Jillette apologizes for calling Newfoundlanders 'stupid'

    Canada News CBC News
    Celebrity magician Penn Jillette has apologized after Newfoundlanders took him to task for insulting their intelligence on a talk show. Jillette, half of the comedic magic duo Penn & Teller, talked about his Newfoundland roots during an appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher that aired Friday night. Source
  • Eclipse so bright, gotta wear special shades

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Unless you’ve been living in a dark cave, by now you’ve heard about the solar eclipse on Monday. The day will turn into night in many places across North America, as the moon shrouds the sun, and precautions are needed for the big celestial event. Source
  • Quebec thieves leave stolen goods behind during early-morning robbery

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    LAVAL, Que. — Police say thieves who broke into a Quebec department store early this morning accidentally lost hundreds of thousands in stolen goods as they fled. Laval police received a call at around 3:30 a.m. about a break-in and robbery at a Hudson’s Bay store in a shopping centre just north of Montreal. Source
  • Woman's flag ripped away, 20 arrests as 'free speech rally' cut short in Boston [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    BOSTON — Conservative activists and leftist counterprotesters prepared for a confrontation on Boston Common that could draw thousands a week after a demonstration in Virginia turned deadly. Police Commissioner William Evans said Friday that 500 officers — some in uniform, others undercover — would be deployed to keep the two groups apart on Saturday. Source
  • Suspect in killings of two Florida officers arrested at bar

    World News Toronto Sun
    KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A suspect in the fatal shooting of a police officer in Florida and the grave wounding of a sergeant was arrested several hours after the attack in a bar, authorities said Saturday. Everett Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of Officer Matthew Baxter and could face other charges for the wounding of Sgt. Source
  • Suspect arrested in killings of 2 Florida police officers

    World News CTV News
    KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A suspect in the fatal shooting of two police officers in Florida was arrested in a bar several hours after the attack, authorities said Saturday. Everett Miller faces a charge of first-degree murder for the killing of Officer Matthew Baxter, who died Friday night after the attack. Source
  • Suspect in killings of 2 Fla. officers arrested at bar

    World News CTV News
    KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A police officer in Florida died from his injuries Saturday, a day after his colleague was killed when a suspect fired at them during a scuffle while they were on patrol. The suspect was later arrested at a bar. Source
  • Police search for Spain van driver and missing Moroccan imam [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    BARCELONA, Spain — Authorities in Spain searched Saturday for a member of an Islamic extremist cell that staged vehicle attacks in Barcelona and a seaside resort, focusing on links with his Moroccan comrades, a missing imam believed to have radicalized them and a house that blew up days ago. Source
  • 'This was hurtful to me': Truro cenotaph vandalized with graffiti

    Canada News CBC News
    Police in Truro, N.S., are investigating after the cenotaph there was vandalized with graffiti recently. Luke MacDonald, a veteran who lives in nearby Upper Onslow, said he was sitting in the park on Aug. 14 when he discovered the graffiti. Source
  • Anti-immigrant groups to face counter-protest in Vancouver

    Canada News CTV News
    Dueling rallies are expected at Vancouver City Hall on Saturday, with demonstrations planned by anti-immigrant groups and those in support of diversity. Joey De Luca, the head of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam Canada, is expected to address his supporters, according to the rally’s Facebook page. Source