Russia, US to launch new Syria peace talks

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Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, during a summit on Aug. 6. File photo

ARA News

Damascus – The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that a new round of Syria talks will be held between Moscow and Washington. Delegations from several countries with influence inside Syria, headed by the US and Russia, are expected to meet on Saturday.

A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the foreign ministers would meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, “to consider possible further steps to create conditions for the settlement of the Syrian crisis.” 

According to the Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, Saturday’s meeting may also include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. “We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format, to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate.”

The Russian FM blamed the United States for the collapse of the last ceasefire and accompanying talks. “The violation of the ceasefire happened [because] the American coalition attacked the Syrian government, which they were not supposed to do, and which they said they would never plan.”

The renewed peace talks coincide with mounting international pressure on Russia for its airstrikes on Syria’s Aleppo. Hundreds of civilians have been killed over the past three weeks. 

“We hope the meeting would result in launching a serious dialogue on the basis of the principles contained in the Russian-American deal,” Lavrov said, referring to a Syrian truce agreement that broke down in September.

War Crimes in Aleppo

Illustrating the pressure now faced by Russia, French officials said on Monday that the International Criminal Court (ICC) must investigate possible war crimes committed by Russian and Syrian governments. 

“We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Paris on October 19. However, according to French officials, French President Francois Hollande has not decided yet whether to receive his Russian counterpart. 

According to Ayrault, Hollande will take into account the ongoing bombardment of Aleppo. Minister Ayrault, told France’s Inter Radio that, “if the president decides [to meet Putin], this will not be to trade pleasantries.”

Aleppo Under Fire 

The French call for accountability comes amid intensifying Russian and Syrian airstrikes on eastern Aleppo. The joint air campaign aims to reinforce Shia militias and the Syrian Army as they lay siege to rebel-held districts.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed over the past few weeks. The exact number of fatalities is difficult to establish as many bodies remain buried under rubble. 

The infrastructure which supports Aleppo’s civilian population has also been critically damaged and in some cases utterly destroyed. Local activists reported that while the Russian and Syrian governments claim to target extremists, “airstrikes in Aleppo destroy homes, hospitals and schools.”

The Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, confirmed that the Syrian and Russian governments intentionally bomb hospitals. Ambassador Yakovenko said that, “most hospitals are unmarked rebel field facilities. Keeping civilians as a human shield is a well-known terrorist tactic.”

Even if Aleppo had functional health facilities it is doubtful whether medicine would be available. According to Zakariya Hamdo, a human rights activist, a building belonging to the ElSaad Pharmaceutical Company was hit with six Russian rockets on Wednesday. “The building was destroyed completely, leaving the city with an acute shortage of medicine.”

Reporting by: Laila Majdalawi & Helin Saeed | Source: ARA News & Agencies 

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