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Russia says US stalling over Aleppo rebel pullout talks

MOSCOW: Russia’s top diplomat on Tuesday accused Washington of backtracking on planned talks in Geneva over a pullout of opposition forces from Syria’s Aleppo to “buy time” for those battling leader Bashar Assad.
“It looks like an attempt to buy time for the rebels to have a breather, take a pause and replenish their reserves,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists, saying Moscow had the impression “a serious discussion with our American partners isn’t working out.”
Lavrov on Monday said that Russian and US experts were to meet in Switzerland on either Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss a proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry last week on a complete rebel withdrawal from the war-torn eastern sector of Syria’s second city.
But on Tuesday he acknowledged that Washington had said it would not take part in Wednesday’s talks and had withdrawn the suggestions made by Kerry.
Opposition fighters in east Aleppo have already dismissed any talk of them withdrawing, but Lavrov said they risked being annihilated if they refused to pull out following any deal between Russia and the US.
“In any case, if someone refuses to pull out willingly, they will be destroyed.”
Russia and the US are on opposite sides of the conflict in Syria with Moscow backing Assad with airpower and Washington pushing for the strongman to go.
Regime forces have so far seized two-thirds of Aleppo’s rebel-held east since starting an operation to recapture the entire city in mid-November.
The assault has raised an international outcry, but Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a seven-day cease-fire in the city.

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