Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov issued a new call yesterday for the Syrian government and opposition to work together to expel all “terrorists and extremists from Syria,” Russian news agencies reported.
At the start of talks with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil, Lavrov said the goal agreed at a meeting of the G8 major economies last month to expel the “terrorists and extremists” should “become one of the main points of the proposed international [peace] conference.”
“To our regret, unlike the government of Syria, a significant part of the opposition, including the National Coalition, has not expressed such readiness yet,” he said, referring to a largely exiled opposition group.
Russia, the most powerful foreign backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the US said on May 7 they would try to bring Syrian government and opposition representatives together at a conference to try to end a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011. No date has yet been set for the conference.
They want talks in Geneva to try to agree a ceasefire and the makeup of a transitional government. Sources said on Friday the initiative had stalled and there was a risk such talks would never happen.
Jamil blamed the West for what he called the “siege” against his country and said he expected that a loan from Russia would be arranged by the end of the year.
He did not give a figure for how much the loan was for.
“The main responsibility for this siege lies in the West, which is the main perpetrator of the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people,” he was quoted as saying.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has expressed an intention to send military hardware to some anti-al-Assad insurgents in part to present a bulwark against units it considered “terrorist organizations.”
However, with funding from Gulf-based individuals, Islamist brigades have taken a leading role in rebel-held regions of Syria, filling the vacuum of power by setting up religious courts and governance bodies.
Syrian rebels seized the northern town of Khan al-Assal yesterday, activists said, one of the last towns in the western part of Aleppo Province that was held by al-Assad’s forces.
An army buildup around the province to retake Aleppo City has been dogged by rebel counter-attacks, although a string of government victories elsewhere in Syria has shifted the tide of battle in al-Assad’s favor after more than two years of bloodshed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-al-Assad monitoring group, said army officers surrendered the town yesterday morning after rebels surrounded a southern district.
Video footage posted on the Internet by rebel groups showed army tanks withdrawing from the town. Another video showed a dead commander whom rebels said led the government resistance in the town, which has been besieged for weeks.
Aleppo is part of a crescent of regions in northern Syria that have become a stronghold for rebels fighting to end four decades of rule by the al-Assad family.
Insurgents have been blockading government-held areas in Aleppo City, Syria’s largest urban center and once its commercial hub. Aleppo has been mired in a bloody stalemate since rebels launched an offensive in the province last year.
Al-Assad’s forces have responded to the rebel advance on Khan al-Assal with a string of air raids in the area.