Russia says Syria to ship chemical weapons
Civilians flee bombsReuters . Moscow/Beirut
Russia said its ally Syria would soon ship more chemical weapons abroad for destruction after being accused of dragging its feet, while activists said civilians in Aleppo were fleeing deadly barrel bomb raids by president Bashar al-Assad’s air force.
Moscow also said on Tuesday that the Syrian government would show up at a new round of peace talks next week, in a bid to allay Western concerns over Assad’s commitment to negotiations which ended inconclusively in Geneva last week.
The diplomatic assurances come as government forces escalate their assault on Syria’s second city of Aleppo, using a near daily barrage of barrel bombs that some activists say is forcing residents to flee and slowly gaining ground for the president against rebel forces weakened by weeks of infighting.
While the fall of Aleppo is not seen as imminent, Assad is keen to control it, together with the capital Damascus and his heartland along the coast. But the rest of the country remains fragmented between rebel, Kurds and other armed groups.
Western analysts say Assad’s use of indiscriminate weapons such as barrel bombs and his delaying the process of eliminating his chemical arsenal suggests he sees little prospect of the West taking meaningful action against him.
Reuters photographs showed streets packed with Aleppo residents carrying large packs as they fled the home-made barrel bombs - oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and metal fragments.
Barrel bombs, cheap and easy to construct and usually dropped from helicopters, often kill dozens at a time. Activists say they are being used to push people from rebel-held areas into state-controlled parts of the city.
The reported gains by Assad’s forces are small. But if they build on them and take the rebel-held portion of Syria’s former business hub, it would be a huge blow to the opposition, forcing it back into the northern and eastern countryside and leaving it without a major presence in either of the two biggest cities.
Syria’s civil war has killed more than 130,000 people and forced over 6 million from their homes.
Russia and the United States, aligned with opposing sides of the conflict - Moscow backs Assad while Washington supports the rebels - have been deadlocked and unable to ease the violence.
But they joined forces to launch the Geneva peace negotiations, which began two weeks ago. The first round produced few results, but a second round starts next week.
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