GENEVA/BEIRUT: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Tuesday a U.N. Security Council resolution put forward by Western powers to punish Syria’s government over its alleged use of chemical weapons would harm peace talks in Geneva. The resolution, vetoed by Russia and China, amid U.N.-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties had aimed to ban the supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist military commanders.
“It is counter-constructive,” Gatilov told reporters. “The climate will be negative, not because we veto it, but because this resolution was put forward.”
Russia has sought to revive diplomacy since its air force helped the Syrian army and allied militias to defeat rebels in Aleppo in December, Assad’s biggest victory in six years of war.
Despite the announcement of a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey and supported by Iran, a weekend of bombings and air strikes in Syria has rattled the talks that began last week.
Gatilov said he would meet the opposition Wednesday. Opposition sources had said they expected to meet the Middle East director at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Sergei Vershinin, later Tuesday.
However, those meetings appeared in doubt after the Russian veto.
“It’s complicated to talk to the Russians. We need to talk to them, but we risk being accused at any moment of being traitors especially after what happened at the U.N. today,” a member of the opposition delegation said.
U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura, who met the government delegation Tuesday, said a militant attack in Homs Saturday was a deliberate attempt to wreck the Geneva talks.
He has warned that cease-fire violations could scupper the small “window of opportunity.”
The head of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Nusra Front, said that the Homs attacks were a message for opposition figures engaged in peace talks in Geneva to “step aside.”
In a working paper handed to the two parties, de Mistura said the issue of fighting terrorism and the cease-fire should be handled in the parallel talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
He has said the focus in Geneva should be a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and accountable governance, based on Security Council Resolution 2254.
The opposition official said Tuesday they would tell de Mistura Wednesday that if the government publicly said it was ready to discuss a transition then that would keep the process alive.
“The opposition is flexible and ready to make concessions, but the government must commit to a political transition. After that we’ll talk about everything and we’re ready to add terrorism to the list,” he said.
On the military front Tuesday, Syrian government forces and their allies from the Lebanese Hezbollah reached the outskirts of Palmyra in their push to drive Daesh (ISIS) militants from the ancient town.
The advancing forces reached the town’s southwestern gateway, located 5 kilometers from its famed Roman ruins, according to the activist-run Palmyra Coordination Committee.
After intense clashes with Daesh militants, the pro-regime forces seized the Al-Maqaleh height and Al-Tamtheel city, west of Palmyra, putting them on the edge of Al-Tar mountain which overlooks the city’s entrance, the military media unit ran by Hezbollah reported. The Palmyra Coordination Committee also reported airstrikes across the town Tuesday morning.
The government lost control of Palmyra in December, less than a year after reclaiming it from Daesh with Russian support. Archaeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to the city’s famed ancient ruins.
Elsewhere, regime warplanes targeted Daesh militants in the agricultural area east of the Deir al-Zor airport causing casualties among the militants, the state-run news agency SANA said.
In northern Syria, regime forces seized control of the town of Al-Tayha Tuwaymat in Aleppo’s eastern countryside after clashes with Daesh, Hezbollah media reported. with Agencies