Death toll falls in Syria

Death toll falls in Syria

The Russians have deployed S-400 air-defence missiles in Syria. Source: Wikimedia

Numerous Russian warplanes are not being used, waiting on runways at an air base in Syria on the fourth day of a ceasefire brokered by US and Russia.

The Russian military organised a media tour of the base to demonstrate the lack of activity. The ceasefire that began on Friday has brought a significant fall in violence in the five-year civil war in which more than 250,000 people have died and half of Syria’s population has fled, flooding Europe with refugees.

The fragile truce has been violated in many areas with the opposition and the Syrian government blaming each other. The so-called Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra branch in Syria are excluded from the talks. The Russian military said its aircraft had hit al-Nusra targets north of Aleppo on Monday although groups that had adhered to the ceasefire would not be attacked.

The Russian air campaign, which began on September 30, involved each plane flying several combat sorties most days, amounting to more than 6,000 missions. Washington and Moscow have agreed to exchange information about opposition groups abiding by the truce and jointly tackle militants who violate the deal.

The US-Russia agreement achieves Moscow’s goal of having Russia appear as an equal partner to the US in tackling the Syrian crisis. The exchange of target information with the Americans allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to deflect Washington’s criticism that Russia’s aircraft were targeting moderate opposition groups instead of its declared target, the Islamic State.

Syria’s military has successfully cut major supply routes to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city that has been split between government and opposition forces since 2012. President Bashar al-Assad’s successes around Aleppo and elsewhere have strengthened his position ahead of proposed peace talks that could be held in Geneva next week.

Syria’s “cessation of hostilities” was having an impact on the ground with the reported levels of violence falling with a greatest level of agreement between Washington and Moscow, argued the BBC’s Mark Urban.

“My worry is that it is the Russians making the weather,” said Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, senior regional adviser at Britain’s Ministry of Defence until his retirement late last year. “It was in their gift to offer a ceasefire on behalf of the Assad regime. That slightly worries me in a part of the world where the Americans have been the guarantors and the people who make the weather.”

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