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Moscow hosts UN envoy for talks to save Syrian truce

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) arrives with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura to 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

 

Moscow / AFP

Desperate efforts to salvage Syria’s ceasefire shifted to Moscow on Tuesday as the country’s battered second city of Aleppo came under fresh fire that killed at least four people.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to hold talks with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura in the Russian capital in a last-ditch bid to rescue peace negotiations that have been undermined by fierce fighting around Aleppo.
The high-profile talks follow a day of diplomacy in Geneva as US Secretary of State John Kerry added his weight to efforts to resuscitate the stuttering truce. Kerry said the situation in the war-torn country was “in many ways out of control and deeply disturbing” as the two-month-old ceasefire brokered by Washington and Moscow hangs by a thread.
Skirmishes continued in and around Aleppo, where more than 250 people have died during a week of violence.
Rebel rocket fire on government-held districts of the city killed at least four civilians including a child early on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
State news agency SANA put the death toll at six and said 37 people were wounded.
However, an AFP correspondent reported no regime air strikes as ceasefire efforts intensify. Meanwhile, heavy air strikes throughout the night on the IS group’s de facto Syria capital Raqa killed at least 13 civilians and five extremists, the Observatory said. But the monitoring group had no immediate word on whether the strikes were carried out by the Damascus regime, its Moscow ally or the US-led coalition battling IS.
“Raqa has not been targeted by air raids of this intensity for several weeks,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“These raids continued throughout the night and into the morning.”

‘Unconscionable’ attack
Washington accuses Russia of doing little to rein in the forces of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s around Aleppo.
But Moscow retorted earlier this week that it would not ask the Syrian regime to halt air raids on Aleppo as it believes that they are helping to combat extremist groups there.
Since then, Russia has said talks are under way to include Aleppo province in a so-called “regime of silence”—a freeze in fighting.
To buttress the truce, Washington and Moscow have agreed to bolster the number of Geneva-based ceasefire monitors, Kerry told reporters, pledging to work “in the next hours” to rein in violence on the ground.
Kerry accused Assad’s regime of deliberately targeting three clinics and an attack on a major hospital last week, which he described as “unconscionable”.
‘It has to stop’
Kerry said a bolstered group of ceasefire monitors will track violations “24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
A senior US diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US, Russia and the UN had moved forward on a new ceasefire mechanism for Aleppo, but that the deal was not complete.
Kerry stressed that the goal was to reinforce a broad truce capable of withstanding further tests.
“We’re trying to press this as fast as possible but I don’t want to make any promises that can’t be kept,” he told reporters after meeting de Mistura and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir—whose government has influence with key rebel groups.

‘New measures’
Before leaving Geneva en route to Washington, Kerry called Lavrov to discuss the flagging truce. The pair “agreed on new measures to be taken by Moscow and Washington”, a Russian foreign ministry statement said, without providing details. Kerry said Washington would press moderate rebels to separate themselves from the Al-Nusra Front’s extremists in Aleppo—in a nod to Moscow’s demands.

Rebel rocket fire kills 4 civilians in Syria’s Aleppo

Beirut / AFP

Rebel rocket fire on government-held districts of Syria’s Aleppo killed at least four civilians on Tuesday but an AFP correspondent reported no regime air strikes on rebel areas as ceasefire efforts intensify. More than 250 civilians have been killed in Syria’s second city since April 22 in an upsurge of violence that has prompted a flurry of diplomacy by Russia, the United Nations and the United States to rescue a teetering February truce between the government and non-extremist rebels.
A child was among at least four people killed in the rebel bombardment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. State news agency SANA put the death toll at six and said 37 people were also wounded.
The AFP correspondent said the rebel-held east of the city was quiet and the Observatory also reported no new air strikes in the area. Moscow has faced mounting pressure from Washington to rein in air raids by its Damascus ally as the civilian death toll has mounted and after a hospital and three clinics were hit.
There were some ground clashes during the night along the front line that has divided Aleppo since rebels seized eastern districts of the city in 2012.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on efforts with Washington to agree a new monitoring mechanism to shore up the ceasefire.

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