Rift widens between Russia, West over Syria

December 12, 2016 10:30 pm | Updated 10:30 pm IST - BRUSSELS:

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

France on Monday accused Russia of constantly lying over its role in Syria, saying it was claiming to battle the Islamic State when it was only interested in backing Bashar al-Assad.

Another round of Russia-U.S. talks on ending the bloody conflict made no progress at the weekend as the Syrian President’s forces closed in on the last pockets of rebel resistance in Syria’s second city, Aleppo.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the talks failed “because there is double-talk and a sort of permanent lie” on the part of Russia.

“On the one hand they say: let’s talk, let’s talk and get a ceasefire,” Mr. Ayrault said in Brussels. “On the other hand, they continue the war and this war is a total war, aimed at saving Assad and capturing Aleppo.”

War crimes

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had said the bombing in Aleppo amounted to war crimes. Speaking to reporters on Saturday in Paris, Mr. Kerry said: “Russia and Assad have a moment where they are in a dominant position to show a little grace.”

Syrian President Assad is now close to taking back full control of Aleppo, which was Syria’s most populous city before the war and would be his greatest prize so far after nearly six years of conflict.

The Russian Defence Ministry said that since the start of the Aleppo battle, more than 2,200 rebels had surrendered and 100,000 civilians had left areas of the city that were controlled by militants.

While Aleppo’s fall would deal a stunning blow to rebels trying to remove Assad from power, he would still be far from restoring control across Syria. Swathes of the country remain in rebel hands, and on Sunday Islamic State retook central city of Palmyra.

Loss of Palmyra

The Kremlin, meanwhile, blamed lack of U.S. cooperation for the Palmyra setback.

“We regret that we have yet to completely neutralise their offensive,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the IS.

“We also regret that there still is a lack of coordinated action and real cooperation with other states — with the United States first and foremost — that do not want to cooperate, and this cooperation could allow us to avoid such attacks by terrorists.” — AFP, Reuters

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