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

  • Deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake hits central Mexico [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake jolted central Mexico on Tuesday, collapsing some buildings, cracking the facades of others and scattering rubble on streets on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets, but the full extent of the damage was not yet clear. Source
  • Suspect tells court he had sex with prostitute, but didn't rape and beat her

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    The suspect in the brutal rape of a Calgary woman in a downtown parkade testified Tuesday someone else was responsible for the attack. Andy Dick Ntunaguza told a two-woman, 10-man jury he had consensual sex with the woman after paying her $50. Source
  • Washington state school shooting suspect pleads not guilty

    World News Toronto Sun
    SPOKANE, Wash. — A 15-year-old boy accused of killing a student at his rural Washington state high school and wounding three others has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, according to court documents made public Tuesday. Source
  • From 'bold' to 'ignorant': world leaders react to Trump's UN speech

    World News CTV News
    Reaction from around the world to President Donald Trump's speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly: Margot Wallstrom, foreign minister of Sweden: "This was a bombastic, nationalist speech. It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the U.N. Source
  • Trudeau says Canada ready to help Mexico after deadly earthquake

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is ready to help "our friends" in Mexico following a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that killed dozens and collapsed buildings. Calling the quake in central Mexico "devastating," Trudeau said on Twitter that his thoughts are with those affected by the disaster. Source
  • 100,000 Canadian victims: What we know about the Equifax breach — and what we don't

    Canada News CBC News
    It's been nearly two weeks since the credit monitoring company Equifax admitted it had suffered one of the largest data breaches in recent memory — exposing the personal information of a whopping 143 million U.S. consumers. Source
  • Dog’s carcass dragged on Alabama highway

    World News Toronto Sun
    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Transportation says “appropriate action will be taken” after photos were posted to Facebook showing a department truck dragging a dog’s body on an interstate. Al.com reports April Bennett was driving with her 5-year-old son on Interstate 20 on Tuesday when she spotted the lifeless body of a dog, which she says appeared to be a German shepherd, being dragged behind the truck. Source
  • Bedroom sharing rules shut door on affordable housing for some families

    Canada News CBC News
    Remember the mixed-gender nursery with Wendy and the boys in Peter Pan? It turns out the Darling parents could never have let their children share stories in one bedroom if they lived in a Canadian co-op that follows the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) National Occupancy Standard. Source
  • Indigenous design team to represent Canada at 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- An Indigenous design team led by architect Douglas Cardinal will represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. The Canada Council for the Arts says their project, titled "Unceded," reflects "on our country's need for reconciliation. Source
  • Sinkhole swallows part of Florida home [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    APOPKA, Fla. — A Florida home has been partially swallowed up by a massive sinkhole. Orange County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kat Kennedy says crews responded Tuesday morning, shortly after the Apopka house began sinking. She says the sinkhole measured about 20 feet across and 15 feet deep. Source