Lavrov urges unity on ISIS after Russia, France kill 33 militants

Russia’s defence ministry says Russian jets are ‘hunting’ ISIS oil tanker trucks

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged on Wednesday global powers to unite without any preconditions on the fate of Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad after Russia and France killed 33 militants in 72 hours.

“It seems to me there are no longer any doubts that it is simply unacceptable to put forward any pre-conditions for joining forces in the fight against terror,” Lavrov told reporters.

Lavrov, who said there was still no agreement about Assad’s political fate after international talks in Vienna, said he had detected a change in the West’s position since the Paris attacks and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane.

Unlike the United States and other Western allies, Russia continues to say that Syrians need to decide in an election on whether Assad to stay or go.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised Russia’s role in talks to end the Syria crisis and offered the prospect of better ties if Moscow focused military strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

But, he said, there were still differences over the fate of Syrian ruler, and Moscow’s current military focus on defending him.

“I hope the change in the position of our Western colleagues -- which has unfortunately only come about as the result of terrible acts of terror -- will spread to other Western partners. That the stance that the real battle with ISIS can only be resolved once the fate of Assad is clear, that this position will put to one side,” said Lavrov.

“In my opinion there can now be no doubts that it is simply unacceptable to put forward any preconditions in order to unite in the battle against so-called Islamic State terrorists.”

Meanwhile, Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Moualem will visit Russia next week for talks with Lavrov about his country's crisis and the struggle against terrorism.

Meanwhile, Spain’s foreign minister pleaded Wednesday in favor of engaging with Assad to deal with the terror threat in Europe, just days after deadly attacks in Paris.

“The lesser evil is to come to an agreement with Bashar al-Assad to begin a ceasefire allowing aid to reach the displaced... kickstart a political transition and above all attack our common enemy -- Daesh (ISIS),” Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told TVE television.

“We have to replace the ‘Bashar yes or Bashar no’ discourse by one of peace or war. If you want peace, you are going to have get along with Assad at least on a temporary basis.”

He added: “(former US President Franklin D) Roosevelt was forced to come to an agreement with Stalin to finish with the Nazis, as it was a lesser evil at the time.”

Garcia-Margallo said there was still no sign of a concrete European action plan.

Lavrov’s statement comes after a monitoring group said on Wednesday that French and Russian air strikes in northern Syria have killed at least 33 ISIS jihadists with in the last 72 hours.

Dozens of ISIS fighters were also wounded in the raids on weapons depots, barracks and checkpoints in the jihadists’ de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

France intensified strikes on Raqqa following last week’s attacks in Paris that left 129 dead, with warplanes carrying out dozens of raids on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Russia also pounded Raqqa with long-range bombers and sea-launched missiles on Tuesday, after Moscow confirmed that a bomb attack brought down a Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month, killing all 224 people on board.

“The limited number of deaths can be explained by the fact that the jihadists had taken precautions,” said Abdel Rahman, who relies on a network of activists, medics and other sources inside Syria.

“There were only guards around the depots and barracks and most of those killed were at the checkpoints,” he said.

He said many families of foreign fighters had also left the city for Mosul in Iraq, another stronghold of ISIS, which has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday said its planes were targeting oil tanker trucks belonging to ISIS in Syria.

“Today a decision was taken according to which Russian warplanes are now flying on a so-called ‘free hunt’ against tanker trucks carrying oil products belonging to terrorists in areas controlled by ISIS,” senior Russian military official Andrei Kartapolov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Also read: Pentagon targeting trucks, rigs in assault on ISIS oil funding

The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will also be operational in the eastern Mediterranean “by the end of the week,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament on Wednesday.

The Charles de Gaulle left the southern port of Toulon earlier on Wednesday to take part in intensified air strikes against ISIS targets.

With 26 fighter jets aboard -- 18 Rafale and eight Super Etendard -- France will have a total 44 aircraft in the area, including 12 based in the United Arab Emirates and six in Jordan.

Russia has stepped up all types of intelligence gathering in the Middle East, including satellite reconnaissance, a senior representative of the Russian Army’s General Staff said on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported.

(With AFP, Reuters)

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