World powers to try again for Syria ceasefire

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Washington, Oct 13 Despite repeated setbacks on the path to peace in war-wracked Syria, the United States and Russia will give diplomacy another chance, as Washington convenes international talks in Europe this weekend to try to secure a ceasefire that sticks.

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Washington and Moscow, which officially cut off bilateral contact on the issue last week after a truce deal unraveled, yesterday announced two days of talks -- in Lausanne on Saturday, and in London on Sunday.

The meetings come after Syria was plunged into some of the worst violence it has seen, as government forces backed by Russian airpower push a brutal assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Fresh air strikes and artillery fire in Aleppo yesterday left at least seven people dead, an international monitor said, a day after Russia was accused of stepping up its raids on the city. They also come with tensions high between Moscow and the West, which has accused Russia of potential war crimes over its bombing campaign.

In the Swiss city, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov should be joined by their counterparts from Turkey and Gulf countries. Lavrov named Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- all backers of Syrian opposition forces -- as possible participants.

But neither side confirmed an invitation to Iran, a key player in the conflict and an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Then in London, Kerry will likely meet up with his European counterparts -- from Britain, France and Germany.

Both meetings will focus on "a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries," the State Department said yesterday.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin "expressed the hope that the meeting set for October 15 in Lausanne... will be productive and contribute in a concrete way to a resolution" of the conflict, the Kremlin said.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin to push for a ceasefire, despite the repeated setbacks.

Lavrov, meanwhile, told CNN in an interview yesterday that he hoped the weekend talks in Switzerland could help "launch a serious dialogue" based on the now-defunct US-Russian pact.

"We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format, to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate," Lavrov said.

The United Nations said Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura had been invited to take part in the talks but a spokesman said he did not know if he would attend. Hopes are rather low for a breakthrough to end the five-year conflict that has claimed some 300,000 lives.

AFP

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