Russia, Turkey seek to craft Syria ceasefire

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  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
    Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
    President of Turkey

Istanbul (AFP) - Russia and Turkey are seeking a nationwide truce plan for Syria, but there was no confirmation of a deal Thursday, as the incoming UN chief warned the conflict had become a global "cancer".

The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said Wednesday that Moscow and Ankara had agreed to expand a ceasefire in second city Aleppo to the whole country, but none of the key players have confirmed the report.

The Aleppo truce was brokered by Turkey and Russia earlier this month to allow the evacuation of civilians and was hailed as a major turning point in the nearly six-year war.

The incoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told Portuguese TV the conflict had become "a cancer on a global scale", urging Washington and Moscow to overcome their differences to end the crisis.

Anadolu said that if successful the latest proposal would form the basis of political negotiations between Damascus and the opposition overseen by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Ankara has hosted a series of closed-door talks between Russia and Syrian opposition rebels in recent weeks.

The Al-Jazeera news channel said a new meeting was planned on Thursday in Ankara, this time between Syrian rebels, Turkey and Russia.

Ankara and Moscow have been on opposing sides in Syria's war, with Turkey seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

But they have recently started to cooperate more closely on Syria, especially after a deal to normalise ties battered by Turkey's shooting down of a Russian warplane last year.

Turkey remained conspicuously quiet as Assad's forces, backed by Russia, took control last week of Aleppo in the biggest rebel defeat so far.

- 'Ongoing discussions' -

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made no reference to the ceasefire plan in a speech on Wednesday, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he did not have enough information to comment.

A Syrian rebel official confirmed to AFP that talks for a possible ceasefire were under way, but said obstacles remained.

Labib Nahhas, foreign relations head for the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, said the faction was "aware of ongoing discussions between Russia and Turkey about a nationwide ceasefire".

He said rebel factions had not been presented with any official proposal.

"Russia wants to exclude Eastern Ghouta from the ceasefire, which is not acceptable," he said, referring to a rebel-held area outside Damascus.

Syria's army has been advancing in Eastern Ghouta in recent months, and securing the area around the capital would be another major government gain after recapturing Aleppo.

An official from the High Negotiations Committee -- which represents the rebels in talks -- said there was no information about a ceasefire so far. There was also no reaction from the Syrian regime.

No date has yet been set for the Astana talks and Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the meeting was still at the planning stage.

But the direct involvement of Turkey and Russia comes as Erdogan is increasingly expressing impatience at the role of the United States in Syria.

Previous ceasefire plans brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov failed to stem the violence.

Syria's conflict began with a 2011 uprising against Assad but quickly morphed into a complicated civil war that has now killed more than 310,000 people and forced millions more from their homes.

Erdogan on Tuesday launched one of his most bitter attacks on US and Western policy in Syria.

He accused the West of not just supporting a Kurdish militia that Ankara regards as a "terror group" but even backing Islamic State group jihadists.

In an angry statement, the US embassy in Ankara said: "Assertions the United States government is supporting (IS) are not true."

Meanwhile, air strikes carried out by unidentified aircraft killed at least 22 civilians, including 10 children, in an IS-held village in the eastern Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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