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Russian general says US’ refusal to cooperate in Syria to escalate conflict

May 27, 2016, 14:17 UTC+3

Jebhat al-Nusra took advantage of the Syrian ceasefire and restored military capabilities, says Russian general, the failure to separate moderate opposition hampers anti-terrorism efforts

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MOSCOW, May 27. /TASS/. The United States’ refusal to pool efforts with Russia to repel militants in Syria will only escalate the conflict, Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the main operations department of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, said on Friday.

He reminded that on May 20 the Russian side invited the US partners to pool efforts to deliver strikes at positions of Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups in Syria.

"The answer we received from the United States, despite the positive assessment of our measures, envisages no joint actions against terrorist organizations, which may entail further escalation of the armed conflict," he said.

The proposal on joint air strikes against terrorist in Syria was voiced by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. Pentagon however turned down the invitation and refused to coordinate actions with the Russian defense ministry. Nevertheless, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said possible joint air strikes are still on the agenda.

Jebhat al-Nusra activities

Militants from the Jebhat al-Nusra terrorist organization took advantage of the ceasefire regime in Syria and partially restored their military capabilities, Rudskoy said. 

"After taking advantage of the regime of cessation of hostilities and the fact that groups of this terrorist organization are stationed in the same regions as units of moderate opposition, at which Russian Aerospace Defense Forces and Syrian Air Force do not deliver airstrikes - Jebhat al-Nusra has partillay restored its military capabilities, replenished its ammunition and weapon stockpiles and launched offensives," Rudskoy said.

He noted that northern parts of Aleppo and Idlib province bordering with Turkey are the main hot spots "where groups of international terrorist organization Jebhat al-Nusra linked to Al-Qaeda are rampant."

Rudskoy reminded that thanks to strikes by Russian aviation task forces in Syria, "the situation was radically changed and terrorists’ resource base was undermined." Thousands of strongholds were destroyed, along with warehouses with ammunition, weapons, military equipment and explosives, he added. "Along with this, deterioration of the situation is noted in several Syrian regions connected mostly with striving of Jebhat al-Nusra leaders to disrupt the reconciliation process," he concluded.

"Despite the accords reached by Russia and the US, by now the issue has not been agreed on the separation of zones controlled by the units of moderate opposition from territories held by gunmen of Jabhat al-Nusra what does allow carrying out efficiently the fight against this terrorist organization," said Rudskoy, who heads the main operations department of Russia’s General Staff.

The general said the Russian side has informed the US colleagues "through different channels" about the shellings in the province of Idlib where units of Ahrar al-Sham are active along with al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

However, the shellings of Fua and Qafraya in the Idlib province stopped only after Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu warned on May 20 that Russia’s military can attack unilaterally the violators of ceasefire, Rudskoy said.

"It is absolutely clear that the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group active in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib today is the main obstacle for the further extension of ceasefire regime and reconciliation in the northern areas of Syria," he stressed.

"That’s why further postponing by our American partners the effort to solve the issue on separating the opposition units they control from terrorists does not only discredit the so-called moderate opposition but leads to undermining the peace process and resumption of military actions in Syria," Rudskoy said.

Oil, weapons smuggling

The Russian air task force has intensified since May 20 its strikes against illegal oil extraction facilities in Syria and the means of oil products smuggling into Turkey, Rudskoy added.

Moscow and Washington agree that it is necessary to impair the economic potential of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra groupings (both outlawed in Russia), Rudskoy said.

"At the expert level, substantive discussions were held on this topic and starting from May 20 we have intensified strikes against the facilities of illegal oil extraction and the means of oil products smuggling into Turkey," he said.

Turkey and other countries continue to supply weapons and munitions to Jabhat al-Nusra, Rudskoy added. 

"Regular shelling of Damascus from Eastern Ghouta continues. Numerous attempts have been made to seize an electricity plant near Homs and to block a motor road linking Aleppo and Damascus. Heavy-duty trucks loaded with weapons and munitions continue to reach Syria from Turkey and cross the Turkish-Syrian border every day," he said.

According to the Russian general, it makes it possible for Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists "to continue provocative shelling and offensives against Syrian government troops." "Apart from that, Turkish artillery continues to shell Syrian border settlements and positions of the Kurd forces," Rudskoy said.

"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that not only we are following the developments in areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra. Our colleagues from other countries are also doing this and have sufficient information. That is why, our foreign partners know about all we are speaking about based on objective control data," he added.

Syrian ceasefire

More than 120 settlements and 60 armed groups have joined the Syrian ceasefire and another 17 groups have submitted the relevant applications in recent days, Rudskoy said.

"Ove the past several days alone… the Russian reconciliation center has received applications on the cessation of hostilities from 17 armed groups. These are groups that were to a greater or lesser degree under the influence or control of terrorist of Jabhat al-Nusra," Rudskoy said.

"The number of settlements that have signed the ceasefire agreement is growing. As of today, their number has increased to 122," he said. According to Rudskoy, 60 armed groups have declared that they accept and fulfil the conditions of the cessation of hostilities.

The ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States officially came into effect in Syria on February 27. This does not cover terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, both outlawed in Russia, and other groups recognized as terrorist by the United Nations Security Council.

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