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Russian airstrikes, Syrian regime advances in Aleppo threaten talks

Russian airstrikes hit residential areas in Aleppo province [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 3 February, 2016

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The Syrian regime took control of three key towns in the northern Aleppo countryside with the support of heavy Russian airstrikes at the outset of peace talks, angering the opposition.
Russian airstrikes and Syrian regime advances in Aleppo have threatened to derail the discussions before they had begun.

Regime forces supported by heavy Russian bombardment from the air managed to take control of three key towns in the northern Aleppo countryside from the Syrian opposition.

They also attacked opposition positions in Homs, Latakia, Damascus and Daraa provinces.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) who is in Geneva for indirect talks with the delegation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cancelled a meeting with the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

They were outraged about the "unprecedented" Russian air raids and the regime and allied militants offensive that allowed government forces to edge closer to breaking a long-running siege on two government-held Shia villages in Aleppo province.

"We have never seen things like this since the beginning of the revolution," HNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani said.

"The regime's and Russia's actions gravely threaten the political process at this early stage," fellow HNC member Farah Atassi said.

The Syrian opposition accused the regime of procrastination after the head of the government's delegation to Geneva, Bashar al-Jaafari postponed a meeting with the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura on Monday.

Jaafari had earlier accused the Syrian opposition of showing "no seriousness" in the peace talks.

"We are still in the preparatory phase for indirect talks," Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters. "We still don't know who the opposition delegation is."
Since last night a big massacre is taking place in Syria and nobody is doing anything
- HNC member Salem al-Meslet

The main reason for the procrastination, the opposition argues, is to delay the implementation of UN resolution 2254, which outlines for a nationwide ceasefire in parallel with the political process, allowing unconditional and unimpeded access for aid convoys, lifting all restrictions on medical supplies from humanitarian convoys, and releasing all detainees.


The HNC said Russia's "unprecedented" bombardment near Aleppo - 270 raids since Monday morning, according to monitors - threatened to scupper efforts to end the almost five-year conflict.

"Since last night a big massacre is taking place in Syria and nobody is doing anything. Nobody is saying anything, the international community is completely blind," said Salem al-Meslet from the HNC.

Last chance

On Monday, the UN special envoy declared that indirect talks between the government and the opposition had officially begun in Switzerland, saying he hoped to "achieve something" by 11 February.

But as cracks began to emerge on Tuesday he warned they were the last chance to bring about an end to a conflict that has left 260,000 people dead and forced more than half of Syria's population to flee their homes.

"If there is a failure this time, after two previous meetings in Geneva on Syria, then all hope will be lost," he told Swiss TV channel Radio Television Suisse.

US Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in on Tuesday, urging the Syrian opposition to remain in peace talks despite the Russian bombing, adding that he was "extraordinarily sympathetic" to their difficult situation.

"But the agreement at the United Nations and the agreement in Vienna is that when the political dialogue begins there will be a ceasefire. So the hope, the expectation is that it shouldn't take long and we're not requiring people to sit at the table for months," Kerry said.

Russia said it was willing to coordinate efforts toward a Syria ceasefire with the US, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

It also quoted deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov saying de Mistura would again meet the opposition negotiators "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow" and they "will announce the make-up of the delegation that will participate in talks."

Agencies contributed to this report

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