US and Russia discuss Syrian peacetalks
BEIRUT and MOSCOW: US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday discussed international efforts to launch political talks between the Syrian authorities and the opposition.
The Russian foreign ministry said the phone call had taken place at Washington’s initiative and that the two men had also discussed the fight against the Islamic State and other militant groups in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, offensives by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russian air strikes, are going more slowly than expected due to increased Saudi support to rebels, senior sources close to the Syrian government said, as the insurgents pressed a counter attack yesterday.
Rebels captured the village of Atshan in Hama province, the second setback for the gov- ernment and its allies in that area in as many days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebels said. The nearby town of Morek fell to rebels on Thursday.
Backed by Russian air strikes, the Syrian army and allies including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have launched several offensives in areas vital to President Bashar al-Assad’s control of western Syria.
But analysts say the government gains have been at best modest. They cited increased supplies of anti-tank TOW missiles to the rebels as a big factor.
“The support from Saudi Arabia for the opposition did not stop but it is now intensified in an unprecedented way, and it is this that has participated in slowing the operations, delaying big achievements on the ground,” said one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Increased supplies of USmade TOW missiles to rebels was the main reason an attack in the Sahl al-Ghab region had minister said on October 31 Riyadh was considering intensifying support to rebels by providing them with “more lethal weapons”.
Vetted Syrian rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army have been supplied with weapons under a programme that in some cases has included military training by the CIA.
Reuters reported on October 31 from Washington that the CIA, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, recently broadened the number of rebel groups to which it is delivering weapons.
Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “The regime has succeeded to a certain degree in Latakia and the southern Aleppo fronts, but it failed completely in northern Hama and Homs.” – Reuters
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