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Kerry warns Syria’s Assad as truce talks shift to Berlin

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) gestures next to UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura during a press briefing following a meeting on May 2, 2016 in Geneva. Syria's civil war is "in many ways out of control" US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday, as he tried to salvage a two-month ceasefire in the war-torn country. / AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

 

Astana / AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syria’s Bashar Al Assad of “repercussions” if his regime flouts a new truce under negotiation, as talks to halt the violence shifted to Berlin on Wednesday.
Russia has said a new ceasefire to halt fighting in Aleppo could be imminent, with Syria’s divided northern city hit by a wave of violence that has killed more than 270 people since April 22.
With the UN Security Council to meet on the crisis later Wednesday, diplomatic efforts to stem the violence shifted to Berlin, where German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was to hold talks with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, Syria’s main opposition leader Riad Hijab and France’s top diplomat Jean-Marc Ayrault.
And in the western German city of Stuttgart, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter was meeting representatives from 10 countries in the coalition fighting the IS group in Syria and Iraq to discuss “accelerating” the campaign.
Renewed fighting between regime and rebel forces has centred on Syria’s second city Aleppo. Fierce clashes raged overnight on its outskirts after a major rebel offensive, after Kerry issued a stark warning to Assad if his government failed to abide by the new deal.
“If Assad does not adhere to (the new ceasefire), there will clearly be repercussions and one of them may be the total destruction of the ceasefire and they go back to war,” Kerry told reporters after returning from an earlier round of talks in Geneva. “I don’t think that Russia wants that. I don’t think Assad is going to benefit from that,” he added.
The Security Council meeting to discuss the bloodshed, which is threatening to derail international peace efforts to end the five-year war in Syria, was called for by France and Britain.
“(Aleppo) is to Syria what Sarajevo was to Bosnia,” said France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said late Tuesday he hoped to agree a freeze of fighting in Aleppo “in the near future, maybe even in the next few hours” after meeting de Mistura in Moscow. A February 27 truce between Assad’s regime and non-extremist rebels had raised hopes for efforts to resolve the conflict, but it has come close to collapse due to the recent surge in violence.
‘Worst violence in a year’
After a relative lull on Monday and early Tuesday, rebels in eastern Aleppo fired at least 65 rockets into government-controlled neighbourhoods, Syrian state news agency SANA said.
The rockets killed 16 people and wounded 68, including at least three women at Al-Dabbeet maternity hospital, it reported. It was the sixth time a medical facility has been hit in 11 days in Aleppo, the International Committee for the Red Cross said, calling it “unacceptable.” Rebel fighters initially advanced from the western suburbs of the city into government-held districts but were pushed back by Wednesday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the fighting was “the most violent in Aleppo in over a year”. The Britain-based monitor did not have an immediate count for combatants killed.
The intense clashes lasted through the night, with heavy artillery shelling and air strikes heard throughout the battered metropolis, an AFP correspondent in the city said.

‘Regime of silence’
Washington and Moscow are working together to include Aleppo in a so-called “regime of silence”—a freeze in fighting—aimed at bolstering the broader truce.
The city was initially excluded from a deal announced last week to “freeze” fighting along two major fronts in the northwest and in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
The pair have agreed to boost the number of Geneva-based truce monitors to track violations “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kerry said on Monday.
In a nod to Moscow’s demands, Kerry said Washington would press moderate rebels to separate themselves from Al Nusra Front extremists in Aleppo.
Russia and Assad’s regime have cited the presence of Al-Nusra, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda that was not party to the ceasefire, as justifying their offensive.
“The problem is that not everyone has the same idea of a ceasefire,” said a European diplomat ahead of the Berlin talks.
“The regime and the Russians say that as soon as there is a bit of Al-Nusra, even if it’s just two percent (of the fighters), everyone else becomes Al-Nusra too. That is not at all how we see it.”

Ferocious fighting in Syria’s
Aleppo after rebel offensive

Aleppo / AFP

Fierce clashes raged overnight on the edges of Syria’s second city Aleppo after a major rebel offensive, an AFP correspondent said on Wednesday.
A coalition of opposition groups fighting under the name “Fatah Halab”—or Aleppo Conquest—launched the assault on President Bashar Al Assad’s forces with a tunnel bomb on Tuesday.
Rebel fighters initially advanced from the western suburbs of the city into government-held districts but were pushed back by Wednesday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the fighting was “the most violent in Aleppo in over a year.”
The Britain-based monitor did not have an immediate count for combatants killed. The intense clashes lasted through the night, with heavy artillery shelling and air strikes heard throughout the battered metropolis, an AFP correspondent in the city said.

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