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

  • North Korea replaces border guards following defection

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - North Korea appears to have replaced all of its guards at a jointly patrolled border area where a North Korean soldier defected last week under a hail of gunfire, South Korean media said Friday. Source
  • Trudeau to apologize to excluded residential school students

    Canada News CTV News
    GOOSE BAY, N.L. - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Goose Bay today to apologize for abuse and cultural losses at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. Former students at five schools in the province were left out of a compensation package and national apology in 2008 by former prime minister Stephen Harper. Source
  • Flynn breaks with Trump team on Mueller probe

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON - It's a move that could signal co-operation with special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. Lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn have told U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team that they are no longer communicating with them about Mueller's investigation. Source
  • Eight claiming to be North Korean fishermen wash ashore in Japan

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO - Japanese authorities were investigating Friday eight men found on Japan's northern coast who say they are from North Korea and washed ashore after their boat broke down. Investigators believe the men are not defectors and wish to return home, according to Japanese media reports. Source
  • Oscar Pistorius's sentence more than doubled to 13 years, 5 months

    World News CBC News
    South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal on Friday increased Oscar Pistorius's murder sentence to 13 years and five months after the state argued that his original sentence of six years was "shockingly lenient." Pistorius was imprisoned in July last year after being found guilty on appeal of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013 in a case that attracted worldwide interest. Source
  • Zimbabweans preparing to greet country's new leader

    World News CTV News
    HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabweans converged on a stadium ahead of the presidential inauguration Friday of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who will become the country's second leader since independence from white minority rule in 1980. Mnangagwa, fired earlier this month as vice-president, is poised to lead after the resignation of 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, who succumbed to pressure to quit from the military, the ruling party and massive demonstrations. Source
  • Hamilton school bus driver charged in alleged abduction of 14-year-old girl

    Canada News CTV News
    Hamilton police say a 70-year-old school bus driver is facing abduction charges after several alleged incidents involving a 14-year-old girl. Police allege the developmentally delayed girl was abducted four times in late October while being driven to and from school in the city's east end. Source
  • China reports breaking up gang that moved $3 billion abroad

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING - Chinese police say they have broken up a gang that smuggled 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) out of the country, evading financial controls imposed by Beijing to stem an outflow of capital from the economy. Source
  • Texas trooper killed during traffic stop; suspect arrested

    World News CTV News
    FAIRFIELD, Texas - A Texas state trooper was shot and killed during a traffic stop in East Texas on Thanksgiving. The Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement on its Twitter account Thursday night identifying the trooper as Damon Allen, 41. Source
  • Chinese authorities look into kindergarten abuse claims

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING - Chinese authorities are investigating allegations that children attending a kindergarten in Beijing run by a U.S.-listed company have been abused and molested. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Education said Friday it would inspect kindergartens in the Chinese capital, a day after the reports drew widespread attention. Source