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Kremlin seeks UN blessing for Syria truce

BEIRUT: Russia urged the UN Security Council on Friday to give its blessing to a fragile cease-fire in Syria, the third truce this year seeking to end the nearly six-year-old war.
The Security Council met behind closed doors for an hour to consider a proposed resolution endorsing the cease-fire that Russia and Turkey announced on Thursday.
A vote is possible as early as Saturday, although Security Council members recommended changes to the draft and it will likely be revised, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia told reporters after the meeting.
“I think those accommodations can be easily absorbed into the draft,” he said. It was not immediately clear if the resolution would win broad support. The text would be closely studied overnight, one Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Peace talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the parties were prepared to start peace talks intended to take place in Astana in Kazakhstan. Syrian state media said late on Thursday those talks would take place “soon.”
Asked by a reporter whether the Astana talks would compete with talks that UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura plans to convene in Geneva on Feb. 8, Churkin said there was no conflict.
“If they’re successful, they could move on to Geneva as far as I am concerned,” he said.
Churkin told reporters earlier on Friday that the seven rebel groups involved in talks so far represent 60,000 fighters, and that others would be welcome. “All those who really want to enter into serious negotiations with the government, who regard themselves as opposition but are prepared to enter into serious negotiations with the government, they’re welcome to show up in Astana, so we’ll see,” he said.

Clashes erupt
Clashes, shelling and air raids in western Syria marred the truce on Friday shortly after it went into force at midnight, and violence appeared to escalate later on Friday.
Fighting erupted between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in an area outside Damascus, despite the nationwide truce, a monitor said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not clear who had started the clashes in the Wadi Barada region.
“Clashes erupted and are continuing… in Wadi Barada near Damascus, with helicopters firing on positions belonging to the opposition and Fateh Al-Sham Front,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Fateh Al-Sham Front is the former Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra Front, which Syria’s government said was excluded from the truce that began early Friday.

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