09/29/2016, 19.26
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Syrian conflict: US-Russia tensions rise as Syrian troops launch offensive in Aleppo

Kerry threatens to break relations if Russia does not stop attacks. Moscow accuses Washington of promoting a "policy of threats and blackmail". A think tank close to the Kremlin calls for Moscow to distance itself from Damascus. In Aleppo, Syrian forces seize a rebel-held area. Militias use civilians as human shields.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The United States and Russia continue their war of words over Syria, trading accusations and blame.

Responding to US Secretary of State John Kerry who threatened to end talks over the Syrian conflict unless Moscow halts its attacks in Aleppo and reinstate the ceasefire, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov slammed Washington for its “policy of threats and blackmail aiming to impose decisions favourable to the US and its clients”.

“After failing to meet their obligations vis-à-vis well-known agreements, the Americans are saying that we and the Syrian side are acting in such a way as to prejudice the continuation of cooperation,” Ryabkov told Novosti. “This reflects heightened 'warmongering' in Washington and among those willing to continue inflicting damage to bilateral relations with Russia".

If the military option seems to prevail over diplomacy at present, the Valdai Club, a think tank associated with Russian foreign policy, has come up with unexpected advice for the Kremlin.

Mideast expert and Arabist Leonid Isaev said “talks for a solution to the Syrian crisis are not doomed,” but if Russia wants to continue to play a serious role as a mediator "it should stand 'above' the parties' and stop defending the Syrian regime to the bitter end.”

"It is a point of weakness for Russia before the next round of negotiations, if they ever take place,” Isaev noted. “We must find a way to prevent the Syrians from playing the Russians and the Americans off each other." If Moscow really wants to act as a go-between, "it does not have to take sides openly for one party."

Ultimately, for Isaev, within the Syrian regime there are people who are not interested "in a rapid solution to the conflict, because many war crimes hang over them.”

Meanwhile, Aleppo’s tragedy goes on. What was once the jewel of the Levant, the oldest inhabited city in history, has become divided along a east-west line like Beirut during the infamous years of Lebanon’s civil war.

In the last 24 hours, fighting has raged in Al Farafira, a neighbourhood northwest of the city’s ancient citadel, in the eastern sector of the city, that fell yesterday to Syria’s regular army.

Local witnesses reported that civilians joined the action, tired of al Nusra and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, not to mention the misery and destruction.

Local residents told Syrian forces of the existence of an underground tunnel into Al Farafira, which was destroyed.

Syrian state TV described the tunnel’s destruction as a “great victory”, noting that “many terrorists were killed inside” during the recapture of the Al Farafira neighbourhood.

Bomb squads later cleared the streets and buildings of the mines and explosive devices left by Islamic State fighters to hinder the advance of Syrian troops. The return of the historic downtown district to Syrian state control represents a change to the status quo.

This appears to be the beginning of a new strategy adopted by the Syrian army, which is concentrating its attacks against the eastern part of the city on a specific sector before moving onto the next. 

Despite what Syria’s official media have reported, neither side seems to care that the rebel forces have taken up defensive positions in residential areas using civilians as human shields. Yesterday, some reports indicate that civilians are not being allowed to leave the city even though there is nothing to ensure their survival.

Sarkis Kassardjian, an Armenian journalist embedded in the combat zone, said that al Nusra fighters (ex Al Qaeda) and Syrian troops are engaged in heavy fighting near the Handarat camp.

Al Nusra is said to have lost all of its heavy guns, as well as its defensive positions and command centre in Al Breidj. Fierce fighting is reported south-west of Aleppo, near a residential project.

The Syrian air force bombed Aleppo’s northern and the northwestern edges, hitting the villages of Kfar Hamra, Hayan, Kaptan, al Jabal, Darat Izza, Baabin, Al Haydariya and as far as Bustan al Qasr. Al Nusra fighters stopped civilians from fleeing the latter.

At present, the toll death remains unknown. The tragedy seems to interest no one, neither the press nor human rights groups in a conflict that has managed to trivialise the value of every human life.

East Aleppo remains in the hands of al Nusra and other extremist Islamist groups that are funded by Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey. (MA/PB)

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