Russia, Turkey open to US joining Syria peace talks

Russia, Turkey open to US joining Syria peace talks
Crisis talks over the ongoing conflict in Syria - where a fragile ceasefire is largely holding - are set to begin in the Kazakh capital Astana on 23 January
3 min read
13 January, 2017
A man rides a bicycle through the rebel-held town of Douma close to Damascus [AFP]

Russia has agreed that the United States should be invited to attend crisis talks on Syria scheduled to take place in Kazakhstan later this month, Turkey's Foreign Minister said on a day when a spate of explosions rocked the Syrian capital. 

Moscow and Ankara negotiated a fragile ceasefire that came into place in Syria in late December away from the auspices of both Washington, and the UN.

Talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital, are set to begin on 23 January.

"The United States should be definitely invited, and that is what we agreed with Russia," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists in Geneva on Thursday while attending an international conference on Cyprus.

The ceasefire deal organised by Moscow and Ankara does not include the al-Qaeda linked Fateh al-Sham or the Islamic State group and has largely held in most parts of the country.

However, violence has continued unabated on some fronts, notably in the vicinity of Damascus. 

On Thursday a suicide bomb attack left at least eight people dead in Kafr Soussa, in the southwest of the capital, marking a rare attack on a high-security district. Four soldiers and a colonel, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, were killed in the attack.

Later on Thursday an AFP correspondent in the city reported hearing several explosions and a large fire inside Damascus' Mazzeh military airport, with plumes of smoke rising above the city from the site. 

Syria's state army command said on Friday that the "flagrant attack" had been perpetrated by Israel. The Israeli army declined to comment on such claims when contacted by AFP.

Over the course of Syria's now nearly six-year long conflict Israel has conducted a number of airstrikes on the Syrian capital, including in the Mazzeh area.

Violent clashes ongoing

Elsewhere near the capital, violent clashes remained ongoing in the contested Wadi Barada region, with pro-regime and Hizballah forces battling against rebel groups besieged in the area.

Fighting in the Wadi Barada region near Syria's capital has damaged water infrastructure and left some 5.5 million people in the capital and its suburbs facing shortages amidst mutual accusations from regime and rebel groups over who is responsible. 

The UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday that talks were taking place in Moscow and Ankara in order to bring an end to the water crisis affecting millions in Damascus. 

Coordinated attacks against IS

Also on Thursday Moscow's defence ministry said that Russia and Turkey had agreed to coordinate attacks in Syria against IS targets. Russia has already conducted a number of airstrikes in support of the Turkish-backed Euphrates Shield military operation in the vicinity of al-Bab in recent weeks. 

Ankara has been angered by the US' support of the Kurdish-lead Syrian Democratic Forces currently marching on IS' de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa and in December attempted to sideline Washington by hosting a series of secret talks with Russian representatives and members of the Syrian opposition, in a bid to ensure Ankara maintains an influence over Syria's postwar future. 

Turkish figures have also threatened to bring an end to the US-led coalition's use of the Incirlik airbase in Turkey to conduct airstrikes on IS targets in a sign of animosity between the two traditional allies.