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Russia rules out Syrian peace talks as rebels press Aleppo attacks

Defence minister says Western failure to rein in rebels in Aleppo means prospects for 'peaceful life' are postponed for indefinite period
Rebel groups begin a counter-offensive in Aleppo last week (Reuters)

Russia's defence minister said on Tuesday that the West's failure to rein in violent groups in Syria had postponed the resumption of peace talks "indefinitely".

Sergei Shoigu said that rebels backed by Western governments had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks.

"As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period," Shoigu said.

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war, and its military operation in Syria, now in its second year, has shored up Assad's position. That has put Moscow on a collision course with Washington and its allies who want Assad removed from office.

Since 18 October, Russia and its Syrian allies say they have halted air attacks in Aleppo. Western governments and the United Nations allege that the strikes had been killing civilians in large numbers, an allegation Moscow denied.

But the pause in the air attacks on Aleppo is fragile: Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said last month its continuation depended on the behaviour of moderate rebel groups in Aleppo and their Western backers.

Shoigu's comments came as the head of the Turkish armed forces, Hulusi Akar, visted Russia on Tuesday to discuss military cooperation and regional developments with his Russian counterpart, the Turkish military said in a statement.

Russia and Turkey, a NATO member, are backing opposing sides in the Syrian conflict. In recent months they have been normalising ties that broke down a year ago when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane along its border with Syria.

The UN meanwhile on Tuesday that both sides in the Syrian war had potentially committed war crimes in the assault on Aleppo.

Rebel groups last week began a renewed push to break a Syrian government siege of the east of the city, attacking government-held areas with rockets and artillery and killed dozens of civilians.

The UN has already condemned those attacks, while also condemning air raids by Russian and Syrian aircraft on the east of the city, which have killed hundreds of civilians.

Shoigu, who was addressing a meeting of Russian military officials, railed against those rebels and their backers, saying they had squandered a chance for peace talks.

"It is time for our Western colleagues to determine who they are fighting against: terrorists or Russia," Shoigu said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television.

"Maybe they have forgotten at whose hands innocent people died in Belgium, in France, in Egypt and elsewhere?"

Listing attacks he said had been carried out by Western-backed rebels inside Aleppo, he said: "Is this an opposition with which we can achieve agreements?"

"In order to destroy terrorists in Syria it is necessary to act together, and not put a spanner in the works of partners. Because the rebels exploit that in their own interests."

Shoigu said he was also surprised that some European governments had refused to allow Russian navy vessels bound for Syria to dock in their Mediterranean ports to refuel or take on supplies.

But he said those refusals had not affected the naval mission, or interfered with supplies reaching the Russian military operation in Syria.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.