Ankara: Russia putting Syria bid at risk
ANKARAAir strikes conducted by Russia and the Syrian government could endanger peace talks aiming to bring an end to the Arab republic’s almost five-year-old war, Ankara has said.
“If the clashes do not end, if the strikes of the [Syrian] regime and especially of the Russian forces continue like this, this may naturally become an obstacle before the beginning of the negotiations [talks in Geneva],” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç during a press briefing on March 2 in Ankara.
“In the nature of things, we are worried about this,” he added.
Bilgiç said the Syrian rebels, who were invited to sit at the negotiations desk in Geneva during the peace talks, said Russian and Syrian government forces were conducting strikes and assaults on moderate rebel forces.
“All these allegations are serious,” said Bilgiç.
A cease-fire deal brokered the United States and Russia took effect early Feb. 27 in Syria and has been continuing for the fifth day, though breaches have been reported and the sides have accused each other of violating the truce by conducting attacks.
Responding to accusations that Turkey had violated the truce, Bilgiç said Turkey had not struck any targets other than the ones belonging to ISIL since the cease-fire deal took effect early Feb. 27.
“On Feb. 28, 41 shots were made at six targets,” said Bilgiç.
Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said March 2 that the cease-fire in Syria had been violated 31 times since it came into effect, the Associated Press reported.
During a press briefing in Moscow, Zakharova rebuffed suggestions that the cease-fire would end after a two-week period.
A senior Syrian opposition official said on March 2 that dates for a resumption of United Nations-backed Syria peace talks remained hypothetical as long as the current truce does not fulfil its humanitarian demands.
“As long as the truce does not help implement the terms of the United Nations resolution, all dates for the resumption of negotiations remain hypothetical,” Syrian opposition official George Sabra told Arabic news channel Arabiya al-Hadath.
“What is the value of a truce if its overseers – meaning America and Russia – do not push all sides to abide by it?” he said.
Commenting on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claims that the border between Turkey and Syria should be closed “since those gangs receive arms, including with humanitarian convoys, across this border,” Bilgiç said the claims were made “in an attempt to cover up the war crimes that are being committed in Syria by the Russians” and could not “be taken seriously.”
Syrian government forces supported by Russian air strikes launched an attack on March 2 to capture the rebel-held Kabani hill in north-western Latakia, a rebel official and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, in an expansion of operations that have continued in that area despite a deal to cease fighting.
Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a phone call on March 1, reaffirmed the need for cooperation to ensure the end to hostilities in Syria, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
“The focus [of the call] was on the implementation of the Russian-American initiative for a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the relevant United Nations Security Council decision,” the ministry said on its Facebook page.
“The foreign ministers confirmed the crucial importance of coordination between the two countries, especially in the military sphere, to strengthen the cease-fire, which must be respected by the government forces and armed opposition groups not associated with terrorists,” it said.
Meanwhile, the observatory and rebel sources said 18 fighters were killed in a car bomb blast that hit a Syrian insurgent group, Jabhat Thuwwar Souria, a Free Syrian Army group, in the southern province of Quneitra on March 2, Reuters reported.
The observatory said more than 1,700 civilians had been killed by Russian air strikes in Syria since Moscow’s air campaign began five months ago.
“Since Sept. 30, , Russian air strikes have killed 4,408 people including 1,733 civilians,” the Britain-based Syrian observatory said. The civilian toll included 429 children and 250 women.