US President Barack Obama has urged Russia to stop bombing ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria in support of its ally Bashar al-Assad, a campaign seen in the West as a major obstacle to latest efforts to end the war.
Major powers agreed on Friday to a limited cessation of hostilities in Syria but the deal does not take effect until the end of this week and was not signed by any warring parties – the Damascus government and numerous rebel factions fighting it.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and Obama had agreed to intensify cooperation to implement the agreement on Syria struck in Munich.
After a phone call between Putin and Obama, confirmed by the White House on Sunday, the Kremlin said both gave a ‘positive valuation’ to the Munich meeting.
The Kremlin statement made clear Russia was committed to its campaign against Islamic State and ‘other terroristic organisations’, an indication that it would also be targeting groups in western Syria where jihadists such as al-Qaeda are fighting Assad in close proximity to rebels deemed moderate by the West.
Russia says the ‘cessation’ does not apply to its air strikes, which have shifted the balance of power towards Assad.
It says Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front are the main targets of its air campaign.
Western countries say Russia has in fact been mostly targeting other insurgent groups, including some they support.
The White House said Obama’s discussion with Putin stressed the need to rush humanitarian aid to Syria and contain air strikes.
‘In particular, President Obama emphasised the importance now of Russia playing a constructive role by ceasing its air campaign against moderate opposition forces in Syria,’ the White House said in a statement.
Relief workers said efforts to deliver humanitarian aid were being threatened by the latest escalation of violence.
The situation in Syria has been complicated by the involvement of Kurdish-backed combatants in the area north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, which has drawn a swift military response from artillery in Turkey.