Russia, US discuss securing Syria ceasefire

The US Secretary of State and Russia’s foreign minister held phone talks shortly after 30 were killed in Damascus airstrikes

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on Friday with US Secretary of State John Kerry about measures that could be taken to strengthen the fragile ceasefire in Syria, the Russian ministry said, the day after airstrikes killed 30 in a district of the capital Damascus.

The two top diplomats discussed taking “concrete measures aimed at strengthening the ceasefire process in Syria” which was established in late February and has generally been holding, the foreign ministry statement said in a statement.


The measures would include steps to improve access to humanitarian aid and to fight against acts of terrorism in the country.

The telephone conversation between Lavrov and Kerry “took place on April 1 at the Americans’ initiative,” the statement added.

Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s call to close the Turkish-Syrian border which Moscow says is “actively used” to send Islamist fighters to Syria via Turkey.

According to Russia’s foreign ministry “Lavrov once again drew attention to the Turkey-Syria border which still has holes and, according to our data, is actively being used to transfer militants via Turkey to Syria.”

This issue calls for “agreement on the necessary actions as quickly as possible, including via the UN Security Council,” the statement said.

Russia has repeatedly accused Turkey of backing Islamist groups opposed to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s ally in the five-year war.

The ceasefire reached in late February, led by Russia and the United States, is between the Assad regime and the rebels but does not include the jihadist groups Islamic State and the Al-Nusra Front.

UN-led talks on a peace deal are due to resume in Geneva soon, but the sides are deadlocked over the fate of Assad, whom the opposition insists must leave power before a transitional government is agreed.

Assad has said that any transitional government should include both the regime and opposition, without specifying which opposition groups should take part.

Heavy toll

Meanwhile, the death toll from airstrikes in a district southeast of Damascus has risen to more than 30, mostly women and children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the White Helmet civil defence group.

The strikes on Thursday, which the Observatory monitoring group said were carried out by Syrian aircraft, came despite a month-long “cessation of hostilities” in Syria between government forces and their opponents, excluding ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

Airstrikes continued in the area on Friday. Two strikes hit the outskirts of Deir al-Asafir and at least seven hit the village of Bala, just north of Deir al-Asafir, the Observatory said.

The U.S. State Department said it was appalled by the reported air strikes. “We condemn in the strongest terms any such attacks directed at civilians,” spokesman John Kirby said.

France condemned the attack on Friday and said it violated the truce. “This abject act is designed to terrorize the Syrian people and sap efforts by the international community to find a political solution,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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