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Lavrov accuses US of attempts to impede Astana process for Syria

Moscow sees intentions of the US and the West in general to impede the Astana process, says teh Russian top diplomat

ANKARA, August 14.a/TASS/. Russia sees intentions of the US and the West in general to impede the Astana process for the Syrian settlement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters after taking part in a session of Turkey’s ambassadors and permanent envoys to international organizations.

"We won’t probably see any direct linkage with the Syrian crisis in the statements made by the US side when it declares sanctions against our countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey)," he said.

"But objectively, of course we feel the wish of the West, and first of all the US but not only, to prevent the Astana process from achieving concrete results and present it as not quite successful," he said. "These attempts were seen earlier, and most likely they will continue," the diplomat added.

"But the fact that Turkey, Russia and Iran, having not always concurring and sometimes far from concurring stances on this or that aspect of the Syrian crisis have found wisdom and willingness to settle concrete problems, has reversed the situation in Syria," Lavrov stressed.

"Islamic State (terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) has been practically defeated with only some isolated small groups remaining. The main target for the present moment is Jabhat al-Nusra (also outlawed in Russia)," he added.

Syrian refugees

The statement of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the dangers of their return to Syria shows lack of awareness, Lavrov said.

"It was strange to hear the statement of the UN high commissioner for refugees, if it was stated correctly, that, in his opinion, the return of refugees to Syria is premature at the present moment, because it is still dangerous there. If this statement really took place, then it’s just a lack of awareness, if not something more serious," the minister said.

"In general, the position of the West concerning refugees is surprising - in most cases, they exercise restraint," the Russian foreign minister noted. "However, there was a very helpful action with participation of Russia and France, when we delivered humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta, but right now we are talking about a much more large-scale goal."

Lavrov added that the vast part of the Syrian territory had been liberated from terrorists, and there is no military activity there. "It’s time to recover infrastructure, all life-support systems, so that the refugees from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Europe would start returning to their homes. This process is already underway, and we think it should be encouraged by all means," he stated.

Earlier, Grandi said that the return of refugees to Syria is still dangerous, because the war there continues.

Terrorist activities 

Terrorists, who are still operating in Syria’s Idlib governorate, have intensified shelling attacks on the positions of the Syrian government forces and Russia’s airbase at Hmeymim, Lavrov added.

"In the recent days, we have been observing intensified attacks, including by al-Nusra (Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia - TASS). They daily shell positions of Syrian troops, launch drones targeting the Russian airbase at Hmeymim and do other procovative actions," he said at a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"Naturally, the Syrian army enjoys all the rights to crush down such activities and Russia has no say with the Syrian army operations. The Syrian army is fighting in its homeland. It is fighting for its independence against terrorists in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. And we are supporting the Syrian army, also in full compliance with international law," Lavrov stressed.

He recalled that the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones is not applicable to terrorist organizations, and the United States proves to be unable to separate extremists from the so-called moderate opposition.

"Of key importance is the fact that the United States, beginning from the Obama administration, has been chronically unable to separate normal, patriotic groups of the armed opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, who demonstrate no willingness for talks and who are to be a legitimate target for all those fighting against extremism and terrorism in Syria," the Russian top diplomat said. "We will speak about that with Mr. Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Turkey] Mevlut Cavusogly]. Our military speak about that within the mechanisms set up in the Astana format."

Four de-escalation zones were established in Syria under as agreement reached by the three Syrian ceasefire guarantor nations, namely Russia, Iran and Turkey, in May 2017. De-escalation zones include Eastern Ghouta, northern parts of the Homs governorate, the Idlib governorate and some parts of its neighboring areas in the Latakia, Hama and Aleppo governorates, as well as the Daraa and al-Quneitra governorates in southern Syria.

Turkey is playing a major role in efforts to maintain stability in the northwestern part of the Idlib governorate and adjacent areas. It is the only Syria region, which is still controlled by illegal armed groups.