Turkey, US discuss Syria before UN talks

Turkey, US discuss Syria before UN talks

Emine Kart - ANKARA
Turkey, US discuss Syria before UN talks

AFP photo

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry exchanged their views over the violence in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, as the latter held urgent talks in Geneva in a bid to bolster a fragile, partial cease-fire in Syria. 

The U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was also scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on May 3, the Russian foreign ministry said. 

Çavuşoğlu and Kerry held a telephone conversation late on May 1, Turkish diplomatic sources told Hürriyet Daily News on May 2. 

“Developments taking place in Syria in recent days and particularly the attacks on civilians in Aleppo were on the agenda of the conversation,” the diplomatic sources, speaking under customary condition of anonymity, said.

It was not immediately clear whether Kerry or Çavuşoğlu initiated the phone conversation.

The telephone conversation came hours before Kerry met his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh, in Geneva, where he on May 2 met Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and de Mistura later in the day. 

Kerry said that intense work was underway to try and restore the cessation of hostilities in Syria, particularly in Aleppo.

Kerry said he would call Lavrov later in the day to press for the cease-fire to be restored.

Kerry also said he hoped for greater clarity over the next day or so on restoring a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and had agreed with Russia on strengthened monitoring once it was in place. 

“Both sides, the opposition and the regime, have contributed to this chaos, and we are working over the next hours intensely in order to try to restore the cessation of hostilities,” Kerry told reporters in Geneva after talks with de Mistura. 

“...Russia and the United States have agreed that there will be additional personnel who will work from here, in Geneva, on a daily basis ... in order to make sure there is a better ability to be able to enforce [it].”

De Mistura heads to Moscow

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov is to host de Mistura for talks on Syria in Moscow on May 3.

“Talks between Mistura and Sergei Lavrov followed by a press conference will take place” in Moscow, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP on May 2.

The talks will be held amid accusations by the United States and other supporters of the Syrian opposition that Russia has violated international agreements to back peace in the war-torn country.

Washington and Moscow are the joint sponsors of the Syrian peace process, and de Mistura had made it clear that he sees little hope of progress without their agreement.

But the United States charges that Russia, while agreeing to support a cease-fire, has done little to reign in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces around Aleppo.

Meanwhile, France called on the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to hold urgent ministerial-level talks to restore the country’s tattered ceasefire, condemning deadly air strikes by the Damascus regime, on May 2.

Paris urged the 17-nation ISSG to “restore the cease-fire, reaffirm the need to protect civilian populations... and give a chance to negotiations towards a political settlement,” said foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.

As diplomatic efforts were continuing in Geneva, fresh air strikes pummeled the Syrian city of Aleppo on May 2. 

Several rebel-held neighborhoods, including the heavily-populated Bustan al-Qasr district, were hit, according to AFP’s correspondent in Aleppo.

Despite the early-morning raids, there was a relative lull in the fighting later in the day, allowing some residents to venture out into the streets, AFP’s correspondents there said, with some even opening up shops.

The freeze in fighting, announced on April 29, applied to battlefronts in the coastal province of Latakia and Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus.

State television reported a Syrian army announcement on May 2 that the freeze has been extended for another 48 hours in Eastern Ghouta, until 1 a.m. May 4.

The same “freeze” is set to hold until 1 a.m. May 3 in Latakia, a regime stronghold.

Cancellation of Friday prayers 

On April 29, fears of more violence over airstrikes by government forces prompted religious leaders in opposition neighborhoods of Aleppo to suspend public Friday prayers at mosques to avoid further casualties, the Religious Council of Aleppo said in a statement.

“Yesterday, on the holy day of Friday, Friday prayer couldn’t be performed in Aleppo,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on April 30, in a speech delivered in the eastern province of Muş.

“In the beautiful Aleppo, in the Aleppo which is the light of our life, mosques remained orphaned this Friday. Do you know why? Russian airplanes, treacherous airplanes, occupiers’ airplanes, the Syrian airplanes - they poured down bombs on innocent people without regarding whether they were civilians, children or women, and on hospitals,” Davutoğlu said.

On May 1, at Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Istanbul’s Üsküdar district, a group called the “Friday Prayer Revolution” held an event called “We are Gathering at Morning Prayer for Aleppo.”

With shouts of “Takbir,” an Arabic term associated with the phrase “Allahu Akbar” (“God is the Greatest”), the group burned Russian flags and posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. 

“The hitting of hospitals, the killing of a single pediatrician knowingly is the point where humanity has ended. It is time to manifest with our blood, lives and properties that we are there for the Syrian people,” Bülent Yıldırım, the chair of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), was quoted as saying by the agency at the gathering.

The Istanbul-based İHH had hit international headlines in May 2010 after it organized the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” trying to break the Israeli blockade on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Relations between Turkey and Israel collapsed when Israeli commandos killed 10 pro-Palestinian Turkish activists who tried to breach the Gaza blockade.