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Russia alarmed by Jabhat al-Nusra’s refusal to leave Aleppo — Lavrov

Moscow does not see US-led coalition’s efforts to fight Jabhat al-Nusra, the Russian top diplomat says

MOSCOW, October 21. /TASS/. Russia is alarmed by a refusal of Jabhat al-Nusra militants (terrorist organization banned in Russia - eds. TASS) to leave Aleppo, in spite of goodwill gestures of Moscow and Damascus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

"In fact, we are deeply alarmed that despite goodwill gestures of Moscow and Damascus which are aimed at normalizing the situation around Aleppo, we see that Jabhat al-Nusra militants (terrorist organization banned in Russia - eds. TASS) are refusing to leave the city," Lavrov said. "By the way, they are not alone as the Ahrar al-Sham group, which our partners view as moderate, is solidary with al-Nusra."

"We handed over their lists to the US and regional countries when we met in Lausanne," he said. "According to our information, all these groups are, one way or another, subordinated to Jabhat al-Nusra, which runs the show in eastern Aleppo."

"They are targeting precisely the routes meant for deliveries of such humanitarian aid," the Russian foreign minister noted. "Simultaneously, using threats, blackmail and brutal force, they impede the exit of peaceful civilians from the city’s eastern part and even impede the exit of those militants who are ready to respond to a UN appeal and to heed the opportunities offered to them by Russia and Syria’s government so that they can leave the city and henceforth, will not be associated with terrorists."

 Washington’s statements that Jabhat al-Nusra is not the international coalition’s target have not become a revelation for Moscow, Lavrov stressed.

"As for Americans’ statements on how Jabhat al-Nusra is seen by the US-led coalition, the statements that al-Nusra is not its target have not become a revelation for us," he said.

"During my regular contacts with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, I have repeatedly drawn his attention to the fact that the coalition is fighting the IS in a rather reserved manner," Russia’s top diplomat said. "But, as for al-Nusra, we see neither any results nor even attempts to suppress this terrorist organization."

According to Lavrov, this gives rise to suspicions that "there is a deliberate policy to preserve Jabhat al-Nusra as the most combat capable force, which someone wants to use to overthrow the Damascus regime by force. "This is regrettable, because this is a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions that were passed earlier, above all, on the basis of the Russian-US initiatives," he added.

Reports on Turkish air strikes on Syria’s north

According to the top diplomat, Russia is concerned about reports claiming the Turkish Air Force deliver airstrikes on northern Syrian regions, Kurdish settlements.

"Syria is a sovereign country, a member of the UN, it obtains complete sovereignty of its territory and of its air space," he said. "As for reports about airstrikes, which the Turkish Air Force deliver on northern Syria, we are very concerned about what is happening there. As far as I understand, we are speaking about regions, where the Kurds live."

In this connection Russia’s top diplomat pointed out that "Turkey is a member of the US-led coalition claiming to fight only IS (Islamic State, terror group outlawed in Russia) and Jabhat al-Nusra (terror group outlawed in Russia)." However, "the coalition hasn’t been fighting Jabhat al-Nusra at all," he added.

"But IS and Jabhat al-Nusra were the only two targets declared by the coalition," Lavrov stated. "So I understand that the US, as the coalition leader, will do everything possible to stick to the declared goal."

Pause in Aleppo depends on ceasefire

Lavrov said Moscow has confirmed to Washington it is ready to extend the ceasefire in Aleppo for as long as the militants observe it.

"We have confirmed this position also in our contacts with the US," he said in a comment about possible extension of the humanitarian pause in East Aleppo. "I have nothing else to add here."

"Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the trilateral meeting on Syria in Berlin (on October 19, together with France’s president and Germany’s chancellor - TASS) in a response to this question (about humanitarian pauses - TASS) said clearly we are ready to extend the humanitarian pause, the ceasefire regime for as long as Jabhat al-Nusra and its allying militants do not make provocations, do not violate the ceasefire regime in attempts to prevent civilians from fleeing seized East Aleppo," Lavrov said. "We have confirmed this position also in our contacts with the US."

Some countries block intra-Syrian dialog

Lavrov went on to say that a number of countries deliberately block the beginning of an intra-Syrian dialog involving all parties and without any preconditions, as is required by UN Security Council resolutions.

"In Syria, our partners are departing from this approach, thus deliberately blocking, slowing down or torpedoing UN Security Council resolutions on the immediate start without any preconditions of an intra-Syrian dialog involving the government and all opposition groups without an exception," Lavrov said.

"Nevertheless UN Security Council resolutions are to be complied with, and we will be insisting on that," Lavrov said.

In April 2016 Syria’s oppositional High Negotiations Committee, enjoying the backing of some western countries and regional states said it was suspending participation in Geneva discussions on the excuse of an aggravation in the area of Aleppo.