Russia proposes Syria ceasefire but warns foreign troops risk 'world war'

11th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Moscow said Thursday it had made a "quite specific" ceasefire proposal for Syria as foreign ministers gathered in Munich, hoping to revive a floundering peace process amid warnings of a "new world war".

With Syria peace talks derailed by the regime onslaught on Aleppo, the UN said 51,000 Syrians had fled the northern city this month as government forces backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters left the opposition there virtually surrounded.

"We made propositions for a ceasefire that are quite specific," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as he sat down for talks with US counterpart John Kerry.

Moscow has refused to confirm reports that its ceasefire would take effect only on March 1, giving another three weeks to an offensive which the UN says could place 300,000 people under siege.

Observers say the bombardments on Aleppo have killed 500 people since they began on February 1.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, warned that any move by Gulf nations to send in troops to support the rebels would risk a "new world war".

"The Americans and our Arabic partners must think hard about this: do they want a permanent war?" he told Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper.

US diplomats said that any ceasefire in the Syria conflict should be "immediate".

"This is an issue of commitments we all took, and that we have to respect," added EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

But Russia and Iran have repeatedly labelled the rebels in Aleppo as "terrorists" and suggested there can be no settlement until they have been militarily defeated.

"Those who are outside Syria should help the peace process and not seek to impose conditions on the Syrian people," Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Iran's state TV after arriving for the talks.

- US 'Plan B' -

A first round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva collapsed earlier this month over the attacks on Aleppo.

The rebels say they will not return to talks, pencilled in for February 25, unless government sieges and air strikes end.

Hosted by Kerry and Lavrov, foreign ministers from the 17-nation Syria contact group came together late Thursday for a meeting billed as a moment of truth for the floundering peace process.

Washington has threatened an unspecified "Plan B" if talks fail, as tension mounts with Moscow over its air campaign.

The two sides traded accusations on Thursday about bombing in Aleppo, with the Pentagon claiming two hospitals had been destroyed, and Moscow saying US planes had struck the city -- which was flatly denied by Washington.

- Weakening the West -

Analysts see little hope of reconciling differences.

Syria is a crucial ally and military staging post for Russia and Iran, while a growing number of observers say Moscow has benefited from the chaos created by the war, particularly the refugee crisis in Europe.

"The goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin is to destabilise and weaken the West," Koert Debeuf, a research fellow at the University of Oxford, told the Carnegie Europe think tank.

But they also see little chance of a decisive victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"The idea of a full reconquest... seems neither credible nor durable. It will simply turn into a terrorist or guerrilla situation," said Camille Grand, of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

Many have criticised the United States for not doing more to support the rebels.

Even outgoing French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius could not hide his frustration as he announced his resignation on Wednesday, saying: "You don't get the feeling that there is a very strong commitment" by the US in Syria.

Washington has been reluctant to involve itself in another war after the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq, and has sought to focus more on combatting the Islamic State group than getting involved in the civil war between Syria's regime and rebels.

"The US has given up the idea of toppling Assad," said Grand. "Kerry seems willing to accept pretty much anything to resolve the crisis."

The conflict has also strained relations between Turkey and its Western allies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back at UN calls that his country, which is already hosting 2.5 million refugees, should do more for those fleeing Aleppo.

"We do not have the word 'idiot' written on our foreheads," he said. "The United Nations should give advice to other countries. And then we can send the refugees to these countries."

He has also slammed Washington's increasingly close alliance with the Kurdish militias in the fight against IS, saying it was turning the region into "a pool of blood".

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© 2016 AFP

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