Sun, Oct 02, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Russia sending more jets to Syria as diplomacy lags

Reuters, MOSCOW and BEIRUT

Russia is sending more warplanes to Syria to ramp up its air campaign, a Russian newspaper reported on Friday, as the US said diplomacy to halt the violence was “on life support,” but not dead yet.

Fighting continued to intensify a week into a new Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to capture rebel-held eastern Aleppo and crush the last urban stronghold of a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011.

Moscow and al-Assad spurned a US-Russian brokered ceasefire agreed to last month and launched attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo in potentially the most decisive battle in the Syrian civil war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov on Friday spoke by telephone for a third straight day, with the top Russian diplomat saying Moscow was ready to consider more ways to normalize the situation in Aleppo.

However, Lavrov criticized Washington’s failure to separate moderate rebel groups from those the Russians call terrorists, which had allowed forces led by the group formerly known as the Nusra front to violate the truce agreed on Sept. 9.

The US made clear on Friday that it would not, at least for now, carry through on the threat it made on Wednesday to halt the diplomacy if Russia did not take immediate steps to halt the violence.

“This is on life support, but it’s not flat-lined yet,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

Military options that US officials say are still being discussed include providing more sophisticated arms, logistical support and training to Syrian rebel groups, though not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, either directly or via Gulf Arab states or Turkey.

Another idea, they said, was first to attempt humanitarian relief flights over Aleppo or other embattled areas, escorted by fighter jets, to see how the Russians and Syrians respond.

Further down the list would be launching an air or cruise missile strike on a Syrian base, with a tentative list already drawn up of what one official said was “slightly more than a dozen” air bases, barrel-bomb factories and other targets.

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that a group of Su-24 and Su-34 warplanes had arrived at Syria’s Hmeymim base.

The Su-25 is an armored twin-engine jet that can be used to strafe targets on the ground, or as a bomber.

Syrian government forces and rebels fought battles on Friday in the city center and north of Aleppo, where government troops had recaptured a Palestinian refugee camp on Thursday that already had changed hands once since the start of the attack.

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