Syria rebels slam Russia, say ready for provisional truce
BEIRUT – The main Syrian opposition group said Saturday it would be ready “in principle” to implement a provisional truce, slamming Russia and the Syrian government after a deadline set for a temporary cessation of hostilities passed and fighting continued.
The Saudi-backed group known as the High Negotiations Committee said however that any potential truce would require the Syrian government to first lift blockades from rebel-held communities in Syria and release thousands of detainees from prisons.
The statement followed a meeting between opposition groups held in Riyadh Saturday to discuss the situation after the deadline set by world powers including Russia and the U.S. passed.
A Feb. 12 meeting in Munich of 18 key nations supporting opposing sides in Syria’s five-year civil war agreed to a cessation of hostilities within a week- but that never started because of intense fighting including a massive Russian-backed government offensive in areas near the Turkish border.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Friday that he cannot “realistically” get the parties in the Syrian conflict back to the table by Feb. 25 as he had been hoping.
The HNC said any truce must include all parties to the conflict including Russia and Iran, key supporters of President Bashar Assad’s government. Russia has said that it would continue to strike at “terrorists” in Syria even during a cease-fire.
“The deadline set in Munich for a cessation of hostilities has passed without response from Russia or the regime, who show disdain for the international community and disregard for the lives of Syrians,” said HNC spokesman Salem Al Meslet in a statement.
He said Assad and Russia have spent “yet another week annihilating defenceless Syrians” and called on the international community to implement a new approach that holds the two allies to account.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin is disappointed by the rejection of a proposed United Nations resolution aimed at stopping cross-border shelling and foreign ground intervention in the Syrian conflict.
The draft resolution was put forth by Russia on Friday at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and was immediately turned down by France.
It did not name Turkey but it was clearly aimed at the Turkish government, which has threatened ground action and is continuing a cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia positions in Syria.
On Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Russia views such trans-border strikes by Turkish artillery and artillery strikes at Syrian territory as unacceptable,” according to the state news agency Tass.
“We can only express our regret that this draft resolution was not supported,” he said.
Syria’s government described the Turkish artillery shelling inside Syria as an “outrageous violation” of international law.
Turkey has in the past week kept up a cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia positions in Syria. It has also threatened ground action, saying it was exercising its right to self-defence and responding to fire from Syrian soil.
The main Kurdish group in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has denied firing at Turkey from Syria. The group has been on the offensive near the Turkish border, seizing territory from Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as well as the extremist Islamic State group.
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The YPG dominates a military alliance made up of Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters known as the Syria Democratic Forces which on Friday captured the town of Shaddadeh in northeastern Syria after three days of battles with IS militants. The town was one of the biggest strongholds of the group in Syria.
The capture of Shaddadeh was reported by the SDF as well as by Syrian activist groups opposed to President Bashar Assad Friday.
A militant website affiliated with IS disputed the reports, saying the militants were still in control of the town. A statement published by the Aamaq news agency said fighting was still raging around the town with Kurdish units trying to advance under U.S. air cover.
© 2016 The Associated Press