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Russia on Wednesday said it would hold Syria talks with the US and regional powers this weekend, the first meeting on the conflict since Washington froze bilateral ceasefire negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to hold talks aimed at “creating the conditions for the resolution of the Syrian crisis” in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday, alongside top diplomats from “key countries in the region”, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
In an interview with CNN Wednesday, Lavrov said that talks should include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and possibly Qatar.
“We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format, to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate,” he was quoted as saying.
A US State Department source confirmed the meeting to AFP: “Can confirm Lausanne. Lausanne will be a meeting with key regional participants as well as Russia.”
The meeting comes as tensions between Moscow and the West have spiked over the conflict after peace efforts unravelled and Russia unleashed an intense bombing campaign to back up a regime assault on the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
The US pulled the plug on talks with Russia aimed at reviving a flagging ceasefire on October 3, sending ties with Russia spiralling to a new low.
The West has accused Moscow of potential war crimes as its forces have blasted rebel-held eastern Aleppo in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.
Air strikes target rebel-held Aleppo districts
The resumption of diplomatic talks came as heavy air strikes continued to pound rebel-held areas of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo Wednesday.
In a posting on its Twitter feed, the Syria Civil Defence Force [also known as the White Helmets], a rescue service operating in rebel-held areas, said the air strikes on Wednesday had killed 25 people, 15 of them at a market place in the Fardous district.
Heavy aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo resumed on Tuesday after a pause of several days which the Syrian army said was designed to allow civilians to escape.
Assad, with military backing from Russia and Iranian-backed militias, aims to take back all of Aleppo, which was Syria’s biggest city before the outbreak of war in 2011. The city has been divided between government and rebel control for years.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that reports on the war, also reported heavy air strikes against the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus.
A Syrian military source said that warplanes had struck several locations to the south and southwest of Aleppo.
Western states have condemned the Syrian government and Russia over their latest onslaught against rebel-held Aleppo.
Putin dismisses French war crimes accusations
The Syrian army has denied any targeting of civilians but France and the United States have called for an investigation into what they said amounted to war crimes by Syrian and Russian forces in the city.
Russia on Saturday vetoed a French-drafted UN Security Council resolution that would have demanded an immediate end to air strikes and military flights over Syria’s
Aleppo city, sparking a major international dispute.
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused France of deliberately luring Moscow into vetoing the resolution and suggested it was doing the bidding of the United States.
“What for? To exacerbate the situation and to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in the media under their control, and to deceive their own citizens,” said Putin.
In an interview with France’s TF1 television channel later Wednesday, Putin dismissed Western accusations of Russian and Syrian war crimes as “political rhetoric”.
Meanwhile French Prime Minister Manuel Valls faced criticism from opposition lawmakers over his government’s handling of relations with Russia over Syria.
“Russia has chosen an obstructive attitude and from our point of view this stance is unjustifiable,” Valls said after being asked by a parliamentarian why Paris was adopting a tough position on Russia.
Despite the war of words, the Kremlin said Putin spoke to French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday and said he hoped Saturday’s talks would be “fruitful”.