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US, Russia fail to reach Syria deal as Islamic State blasts kill 48

  • Published at 12:01 am September 6th, 2016
US, Russia fail to reach Syria deal as Islamic State blasts kill 48

Top diplomats from the United States and Russia on Monday failed to reach a deal to ease fighting in Syria as a string of bomb attacks killed at least 48 people there, underscoring the need to stem the violence.

Washington and Moscow support different sides in a festering conflict that has left 290,000 dead, and sent hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe.

The US and Russia also co-chair a UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, which has been struggling to get desperately needed aid into the country.

As blasts maimed and killed in Syria, a senior State Department official said fresh crisis talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the G20 summit in China had ended without agreement.

A deal to provide aid to ravaged civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo, and at least partially halt Russian and Syrian bombardments had looked likely on Sunday.

But US officials accused Russia of backtracking on already agreed issues that Washington refused to revisit.

The talks also appeared to have been overtaken by developments on the ground, with Syrian government troops tightening their grip on Aleppo.

State media said they had taken an area south of the city, severing the last opposition-held route into its eastern neighbourhoods.

Monday’s string of explosions hit government-held Tartus and Homs, as well as Hasakeh, which is mostly controlled by Kurdish forces but where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad maintains a presence, according to Syrian state media.

At least 48 people perished and dozens were wounded.

Tartus, which has become a refuge for many Syrians fleeing violence, has been largely spared the worst of Syria’s conflict since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

The bombings came after advances by Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels expelled IS from the last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border under their control.

The jihadist group has been losing ground to both an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces and, more recently, a Turkish offensive involving rebels loyal to Ankara.

Into the weeds

Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin had a 90-minute meeting Monday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where they agreed to continue talks, a White House spokesman said.

The leaders “discussed efforts to reach an agreement on Syria to reduce violence, provide humanitarian assistance and to focus on al-Qaeda -- also known as Al Nusra -- and (IS) in Syria,” he said.

But the leaders did not “get down into the weeds”, the official said, saying the remaining disagreements were “technical” and would be discussed in the coming days by Kerry and Lavrov.

Earlier truces in Syria have rapidly deteriorated, and Obama warned Sunday that the US was approaching the talks “with some scepticism”.

Washington is also highly reluctant to offer Putin a high-profile stage to gain international legitimacy after his backing for a regime that has used chemical weapons on civilians.

US officials had hoped to build pressure on Moscow over its support for Assad’s government during the Hangzhou summit and upcoming UN General Assembly.

The US has repeatedly said that Assad must step down if Syria is to reach a lasting peace.

Massive damage

The governor of Homs province said a car bomb struck a military checkpoint in the provincial capital, Homs, killing two soldiers and injuring four others, one critically. The city, Syria’s third largest, is largely under government control, with only one neighbourhood still under opposition control. Monday’s bomb exploded in the government-held Bab Tadmor district, SANA said. The Observatory said four soldiers were killed.

Syrian TV aired footage showing massive damage to the area, with a number of smashed cars and the bloodied body of a guard at the checkpoint, where the blast had taken place.

An attacker detonated his motorcycle at the Marsho roundabout in the northeastern city of Hasakeh, killing five, SANA said. Government military forces withdrew from the city in August after street battles with the Kurdish autonomous self-defence force for the region, the YPG. The YPG and its political wing, the PYD, inherited control of the city, though the state’s police force remained.

IS claims responsibility

The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for a spate of bomb attacks across Syria that left dozens dead in mostly government-controlled territory.  The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said the jihadist group was behind a “string of simultaneous suicide attacks” in Damascus, coastal Tartus, central Homs, and Hasakeh in the northeast.

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