Russia has low expectations for Syria meeting

Al Assad says victory in Aleppo would provide a ‘springboard’ from which to ‘liberate’ other areas of the country

Image Credit: AFP
Rebel fighters and their families arrive on the outskirts of Idlib, bordering Hama province, following their evacuation from Qudssaya and Al-Hamah yesterday.
Gulf News

Dubai: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday he had “no special expectations” for Saturday’s talks on the Syria crisis that will be held in Lausanne because Moscow had not yet seen reciprocal steps from its Western partners.

Russia does not intend to put forward new initiatives on resolving the conflict in Syria, Lavrov told reporters in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed this week to hold the meeting in Switzerland to consider what further steps could be taken to achieve a resolution of the Syria conflict.

Foreign ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran could also take part in the talks.

“We want to get down to concrete work and see how well our partners observe the UN Security Council resolution (on Syria),” Lavrov said. “We are not going to propose anything else.”

Syrian residents in opposition-held eastern part of the city of Aleppo woke up to a fresh wave of airstrikes on Friday amid intense clashes between government forces and rebels - part of a devastating military campaign by Syria and Russia that the opposition says has killed dozens of people in the past week.

President Bashar Al Assad, meanwhile, expressed his intention to recapture the northern city’s rebel-held eastern neighborhoods, saying that a military victory in Aleppo would provide the Syrian army with a “springboard” from which to liberate other areas of the country.

“You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey to go back to where they came from, or to kill them,” Al Assad said in an interview with a Russian media outlet, Komsomolskaya Pravda, released on Thursday.

“There’s no other option,” he added.

Syrian government forces have encircled the eastern half of Aleppo, besieging tens of thousands of people and pounding the territory with airstrikes on daily basis. The siege and deadly bombardment has caused an international outcry with a number of countries and groups accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes in connection with attacks on medical facilities and aid convoys.

US President Barack Obama planned to convene his National Security Council for a highly anticipated meeting about Syria on Friday. Having cut off diplomatic talks with Russia after a cease-fire in Syria failed, the Obama administration has been at a loss to find a new viable strategy to stem the violence even as the bloodshed in Aleppo and elsewhere continues to mount.

The violence also gives additional urgency to the upcoming meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on efforts to find a peace deal in Syria in Switzerland on Saturday. It will be the first face-to-face contact between the two men since Washington broke off bilateral diplomatic contact with Moscow earlier this month.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Friday reported dozens of overnight airstrikes on eastern Aleppo. It added that clashes are taking place on the northern and southern edges of the city.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, said the airstrikes killed and wounded a number of people, with some buried under the debris.

The Observatory said Wednesday that at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since the US and Russian-brokered truce collapsed in September. The UN says over 100 children have been killed in the campaign, which has also included a limited ground offensive.

- with inputs from agencies