Russia says closing gaps with US over Syria


MOSCOW:Moscow and Washington will boost their cooperation on resolving the Syrian crisis as they have managed to reduce their mutual mistrust on the conflict in the Arab country, says the Russian foreign minister.

“It is an achievement that we have been able to reduce areas of misunderstanding and to reduce the level of mutual mistrust between the two countries,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said at a joint press conference with his American counterpart John Kerry at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday.

During the presser, which was preceded by a 12-hour-long meeting between the two sides, Lavrov said that both countries had agreed to boost their military cooperation to settle the years-long crisis, and on ways to accelerate the peace process in the Arab country.

The Russian minister also said that separating “sane opposition forces” from terrorist organizations, including the Takfiri al-Nusra Front group, was key to curbing the violence in Syria.

“In fact, today our American partners for the first time gave us a list of rebel organizations who joined the cessation of hostilities after the US mediation,” Lavrov further said.

“I don't see any possibility of assuring a really durable, full-fledged ceasefire without the separation of healthy opposition forces from terrorists. The understanding of this task between us and our American partners gets increasingly clearer,” he added.

Without naming any countries, Lavrov also slammed some governments for illegally intervening in Syria and emboldening terrorists by undermining the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling Iran and Russia as the only countries legally assisting Syrians inside the country.

Kerry, for his part, said that there would not be a military solution to the crisis, which he described as “dramatically deteriorated.”

“The conflict will not end without a political solution. It is really the only viable path towards peace and security and normalcy that the Syrian people deserve,” Kerry added.

The two top diplomats also said that experts from their respective countries would meet in Geneva in the coming days to conclude the few remaining technical issues and to clarify the details of what had been agreed on Friday.

'A united Syria'

Both ministers also supported the sovereignty of Syria and agreed that the Syrian Kurdish population should remain a part of the Middle Eastern country.

“Kurds must remain a part of the Syrian state, part of resolving the problem, and not a factor that will be used to split Syria apart,” Lavrov said.

Kerry also echoed Lavrov’s remarks, saying, “We are for a united Syria. We do not support an independent Kurd initiative.”

He added, however, that the US had so far cooperated with “some elements” of the Kurdish forces on a “very limited basis.”

Friday's meeting came a month after the two top diplomats met in Moscow and agreed on a number of unspecified actions to resuscitate a truce that would pave the way for peace talks.

Darayya 'sets a precedent' for more Syria gains

Under a Thursday deal between the Syrian army and foreign-sponsored militants, some 700 militants began leaving the Damascus suburb of Darayya on Friday. 

Thousands of male and female residents of Darayya also began departing the area to be relocated to temporary accommodation centers scattered in Damascus neighborhoods and surrounding areas.

Darayya had been under siege since November 2012. It has become one of the most heavily-bombed militant-held areas during Syria's conflict, which is now in its sixth year. The occupying militants are leaving the town after they handed over their medium-caliber and heavy weapons to the army soldiers.

Referring to the evacuation of militants from Darayya, Lavrov said, “This is an example I think will get some following.”

The development comes as Syrian army units have boosted their clean-up operations against Takfiri militants both inside and around Darayya over the past few days, pounding terrorist positions and inflicting heavy losses on militant ranks.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Back in 2014, the UN said it would no more update its official death toll for Syria.

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