Russia, US find common ground on Syria


After months of sharp differences, Russia and the United States have agreed to push both sides in Syria to find an end to the bloodshed, offering to hold an international conference in search of peace.
Syrian rebels meanwhile said they had seized four Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, the second time in two months that UN troops have been abducted in the tense ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel.
And Syria’s Internet blackout entered into its second consecutive day on yesterday, which the state news agency blamed on a fault in optical fibre cables. Landline phone services between Syrian provinces have also been down since Tuesday, SANA said.
The government said they are trying to restore the services.
In talks that stretched late into Tuesday night, US Secretary of State John Kerry met first for more than two hours with President Vladimir Putin and then for a further three with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We agreed that Russia and the United States will encourage both the Syria government and opposition groups to find a political solution,” Lavrov told reporters at a concluding news conference that ended after midnight.
Lavrov and Kerry said they hoped they could convene an international conference by the end of May to build on the Geneva accord agreed by world powers last June for a peaceful solution in Syria.
The Geneva agreement, which was never implemented, set out a path toward a transitional government without ever spelling out the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
And in what appeared to be a major concession to Russian concerns of instability in its Middle East ally, Kerry seemed to soften the US stand on Assad’s future.
Washington has long insisted Assad must go. But Kerry told reporters that only the Syrian regime and the opposition can determine the make-up of a transitional government to shepherd the war-torn nation towards democratic elections.
Russia has long accused the West of worsening the Syria conflict by seeking to topple the Assad regime. The US and other Western states have in turn accused Russia of failing to use its influence with the regime to halt the bloodshed and keeping up military deliveries to Assad.
In one of the first reactions to the Russian-US accord, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, described the deal as a “very significant first step”.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said his country was not getting involved in Syria’s civil war, but insisted the Jewish state would not permit the transfer of arms to Damascus ally Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.
Yaalon was speaking just days after two Israeli air strikes near Damascus sent regional tensions soaring and as the United Nations protested about Israel warplanes overflying Lebanon.

Source: The Daily Star


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