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Russia threatens to eliminate Syria opposition who refuse to flee to Idlib

Participants attend the 9th round of Astana talks on Syria, in Astana, Kazakhstan on 15 May, 2018 [Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu Agency]
Participants attend the 9th round of Astana talks on Syria, in Astana, Kazakhstan on 15 May, 2018 [Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu Agency]

Russian presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentyev has threatened to eliminate Syrian opposition factions that resist being deported to the northern stronghold of Idlib, according to Syria Call news agency.

The comments, which came during the ninth round of peace talks in Astana, also made reference to groups in Eastern Ghouta who had struggled against the Syrian regime’s onslaught last month, with Lavrentyev vowing that those who did not accept forced displacement would meet the same fate.

Lavrentyev further criticised the US for failing to send a delegation to observe the latest round of Syria negotiations, but said that its absence would not impact the decisions made.

“No one doubts the usefulness of Astana platform to achieve greater stability in Syria except the US and its allies, and therefore its absence will not affect the talks,’’ he added.

The Russian-led Syria talks came to an end yesterday afternoon, after failing to edge the seven-year conflict closer to a political settlement, casting the future of diplomatic efforts to end the crisis into uncertainty.

Chaired by former premier of the Syrian interim government, Ahmed Tuma, the opposition delegation comprised of 24 people representing a few select factions backed by Turkey. But cracks in the fraught negotiations showed when the opposition ruled out attending the next high-level meeting on Syria if it would take place in the Russian city of Sochi.

READ: Turkey: US, Russia proxy war on Syria a ‘dangerous path’

“We want negotiations to take place in Astana and only in Astana. If the guarantor countries want to hold another meeting in another country that is up to them,” Tuma concluded.

However, Bashar Jaafari, head of the Syrian regime delegation to Astana, expressed satisfaction regarding the outcomes, stressing that the Syrian government would continue to fight terrorism and take back its territory.

Lavrentyev’s comments came on the same day that IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) released a report which found that air strikes against Syrian opposition groups have gone up 150 per cent since Russia intervened in the conflict in 2015, helping the regime triple the territory under its control.

The global security-risk consultancy also found that just 14 per cent of Russian strikes had been launched against Daesh group.

Russia and the Syrian regime have been employing a strategy of crushing smaller opposition outposts in the country and evacuating fighters and civilians to the northern stronghold of Idlib.

Despite agreeing yesterday that the de-escalation status of Idlib must be protected, the governorate has continued to be bombarded by Russian warplanes. Airstrikes on the residential area of Ariha city killed two girls yesterday, with the White Helmets defence unit reporting that Syrian regime strikes left at least eight civilians dead earlier today.

READ: 3,500 displaced Syrians arrive in Aleppo, Idlib

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