Russia Sending More Warplanes to Syria

Children play with water from a burst pipe at a site hit by an airstrike in Aleppo’s militant-controlled al-Mashad neighborhood, Syria, on Sept. 30.  Children play with water from a burst pipe at a site hit by an airstrike in Aleppo’s militant-controlled al-Mashad neighborhood, Syria, on Sept. 30. 

Russia is sending more warplanes to Syria to ramp up its air campaign, a Russian newspaper reported on Friday, as the United States said diplomacy to halt the violence was “on life support” but not dead yet.

Fighting continued to intensify a week into a new Russian-backed Syrian government offensive to capture militant-held eastern Aleppo and crush the last urban stronghold of a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in 2011, Reuters reported.

Russia joined the war a year ago, tipping the balance of power in favor of Assad, who is also supported by Iranian advisors and militia from Lebanon and Iraq.

The Kremlin said on Friday there was no timeframe for its military operation in Syria. The main result of Russian airstrikes over the past year is that “neither Islamic State, nor Al-Qaeda nor the Nusra Front are now sitting in Damascus”, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that a group of Su-24 and Su-34 warplanes had arrived at Syria’s Hmeymim base.

The Su-25 is an armored twin-engine jet that was battle-tested in the 1980s during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It can be used to strafe targets on the ground, or as a bomber.

Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment. The US State and Defense Departments declined comment on the Izvestia report.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone for a third straight day, with the top Russian diplomat saying Moscow was ready to consider more ways to normalize the situation in Aleppo.

But Lavrov criticized Washington’s failure to separate moderate militant groups from those the Russians call terrorists, which had allowed forces led by the group formerly known as the Nusra front to violate the US-Russian truce agreed on Sept. 9.

  No Alternative to Diplomacy

The United States made clear on Friday that it would not, at least for now, carry through on the threat it made on Wednesday to halt the diplomacy if Russia did not take immediate steps to halt the violence.

“This is on life support, but it’s not flat-lined yet,” State Department pokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “We have seen enough that we don’t want to definitively close the door yet.”

The White House put on hold for now proposals to end the talks despite the possibility that continuing them would erase whatever credibility Washington has on Syria, risk encouraging Assad and his Russian backers to continue the attacks, and prompt Saudi Arabia and other Assad opponents to arm militant groups with better weapons without consulting Washington.

It also would leave the United States vulnerable to attacks that it failed to intervene to halt war crimes, as proponents of ending the diplomacy argued, according to officials familiar with the internal discussions.

Military options that the Syrian group administration officials say are still being discussed include providing more sophisticated arms, logistical support, and training to Syrian militant groups, though not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, either directly or via Persian Gulf Arab states or Turkey, these officials said.

Another idea, they said, was first to attempt humanitarian relief flights over Aleppo or other embattled areas, escorted by fighter jets, to see how the Russians and Syrians respond. Further down the list would be launching an air or cruise missile strike on a Syrian base, with a tentative list already drawn up of what one official said was “slightly more than a dozen” Syrian airbases, barrel-bomb factories and other targets.

However, senior officials concluded there is no alternative to leaving the door open to talks for now because any immediate action would risk provoking an open conflict with Russia.

Western countries accuse Russia of war crimes, saying it has targeted civilians, hospitals and aid deliveries in recent days to crush the will of 250,000 people trapped inside the besieged militant-held sector of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the war.

Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted only militants.

Syrian government forces and militants fought battles on Friday in the city center and north of Aleppo, where government troops had recaptured a Palestinian refugee camp on Thursday that already had changed hands once since the start of the attack.

The sides gave conflicting accounts of the outcome of Friday’s fighting. North of the city, the military said it had captured territory around the Kindi hospital near the refugee camp. Militant sources denied the army had advanced there.

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