Syria says ready to join ‘non-binding’ UN peace talks

Syrian Foreign Minister says country will take part in preliminary talks as Russia launches fresh attacks against ISIL.

Activists accused Russia of targeting civilians during its air strikes in Syria [Syria Civil Defense/AP]
Activists accused Russia of targeting civilians during its air strikes in Syria [Syria Civil Defense/AP]

Syria’s foreign minister has said that his country will join UN preliminary peace talks amid fresh air strikes carried out by Russia against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Walid al-Muallem said on Friday that he understood the talks, proposed by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, to be “mainly to exchange ideas” and non-binding.

Russia accused of striking civilian targets in Syria

“I would like to announce here that Syria agrees to participate in the four brainstorming committees of experts proposed by the special envoy Staffan de Mistura,” he told the 193-nation assembly.

Muallem later questioned the value of political negotiations and said air strikes against fighters in his country are useless if they are not coordinated with his government, adding that Russia’s air strikes have received the country’s support.

The Russian defence ministry said on Friday that the latest strikes targeted a facility used to produce explosive devices near the city of Maarat an Numan in Idlib province, as well as a nearby terrorist base.

An underground militant command post had been destroyed in a strike in Latamna, in the Hama province, it said.

“Six strikes were conducted on targets of the ISIL terrorist group in 14 flights,” the defence ministry said in a statement on the third day of its military intervention.

Civilians hit

At least 12 members of the ISIL group have been killed in Russia’s first air strikes on the armed faction’s main Syrian bastion, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

Earlier it confirmed carrying out strikes on Raqqa province on Thursday, as well as raids on the provinces of Aleppo in the north, Idlib in the northwest and Hama in central Syria.

On Thursday, Russian jets hit areas in the suburbs of Hama and Idlib, all areas under the control of loose coalitions of rebel groups, including the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Activists on the ground told Al Jazeera that the majority of the attacks hit civilian targets, a claim that Moscow, a key ally of Assad, denies.

Activists and Raqqa residents said ISIL had cancelled Friday prayers and emptied mosques there, fearing further attacks.

RELATED: US and Syria opposition question Russia intentions

“The residents are very afraid, especially if the Russians are going to operate like regime planes by targeting civilians,” said activist Abu Mohammad from Raqqa.

The US-led coalition, which conducted 28 air strikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq on Thursday, said Russia’s hitting of other opposition groups is an effort to prop up its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

President Vladimir Putin told French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris that Russian actions in Syria were aimed at fighting terrorist organisations “ISIL, al-Nusra Front and others”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The US and its allies asked Russia to stop its strikes on targets other than ISIL, even as Russia’s lower house says the air strike campaign over Syria could last three to four months.

UN withdraws

De Mistura travelled to Syria last month to win Assad’s support for the new plan, the latest bid by the UN to lay the groundwork for peace after two failed attempts.

The four working groups will tackle safety and protection, political and legal affairs, the military and counterterrorism, and reconstruction.

Will Putin save Assad?

Meanwhile, the United Nations said it had been forced to suspend planned humanitarian operations in parts of Syria due to the fighting.

De Mistura’s office said the UN team had made all necessary preparations to immediately implement the humanitarian provisions as part of the implementation of a ceasefire agreement.

The deal was to allow Sunni fighters and their families’ safe passage out of the border area of the southwestern city Zabadani in return for safe passage for Shia civilians in the northern villages of Foua and Kfarya, which have been besieged by insurgents.

Foua and Kfarya are in Idlib province where Russian warplanes have carried out several air strikes over the past two days.

More than four million people have fled the Syrian conflict, with hundreds of thousands heading to Europe, which is now facing its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Source : News Agencies


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