US, Russia to meet on Syria truce violations ahead of talks

King Khalid Military City (Saudi Arabia): US and Russian officials were to meet today on Syrian opposition charges of truce violations by the regime but peace talks remain on course, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Asked at the end of a visit to Saudi Arabia whether indirect dialogue in Geneva between the Syrian regime and opposition could go ahead as planned on Monday, Kerry said: “Yes, it can.”

“Our teams are meeting today with Russia in both Geneva and Amman, where very detailed lay downs will take place regarding these allegations and I am requesting a call with Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov today and we will work through these and we have been each day,” he said of the opposition complaints.

Air raids by the Syrian regime killed seven civilians in rebel-held areas of second city Aleppo yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitoring group termed the strikes “the most serious violation in the city since the truce came into effect”.

But Kerry, who met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for talks on Syria, said that “perceived” violations of the ceasefire that began on February 27 should not derail the UN-mediated talks.

“The level of violence by all accounts has been reduced by 80 to 90 per cent, which is very, very significant. And what we want to do is continue to work to reduce these.

“We believe that the start of talks this next week in Geneva presents a critical moment for bringing the political solution to the table that we’ve all been waiting for, even as we extend the humanitarian assistance and continue to try to reduce the violence,” he said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “I would emphasise that people see the future of Syria without (President) Bashar al-Assad.”

Yesterday, the Syrian opposition said it will attend the peace talks, stoking hopes that the war-ravaged country may be able to end five years of civil war and move towards elections in 18 months.

The two-week ceasefire has created a lull in fighting between the Russian-backed regime and non-jihadist rebels.

The UN Syria envoy called on yesterday for elections in the war-ravaged country to be held by the middle of 2017.

The US State Department said the truce “has produced a dramatic reduction in violence”, although it warned that the regime was still carrying out attacks.

“Despite the reduction in violence nationwide, we remain deeply concerned by continued specific violations to the cessation of hostilities, including attacks on civilians and opposition forces by the regime and its supporters,” spokesman John Kirby said.