PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Ahmad al-Jarba, the leader of Syria Tomorrow, in Moscow on Monday


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UPDATE 1700 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to invite all parties to talks in Geneva and not be hostage to “whims of separate representatives of the Syrian opposition”:

I don’t want to criticize Staffan de Mistura. He and his colleagues are in a difficult situation, but we insistently recommend them to use the powers they were vested with by the UN Security Council, and invite all Syrians regularly to the talks.

UPDATE 1400 GMT: Pursuing their reconciliation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed in a 45-minute phone call to revive bilateral cooperation and expressed their shared determination to fight terrorism.

Putin called Erdoğan two days after the Turkish leader sent a message of apology for the downing of a Russian warplane last November near the Syria border.

“Our president and Putin, president of the Russian Federation, have emphasized the importance of normalizing bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia,” Erdoğan’s office said in a statement after the “positive and productive” phone call.

Putin, who expressed condolences over Tuesday night’s bombing of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport (see separate entry), said he will order negotiations to restore bilateral trade cooperation and will drop restrictions on Russian tourists visiting Turkey.

ORIGINAL POST Looking for a way out of its stalemate in Syria’s conflict, Russia is again promoting a “proper” opposition for political talks.

The approach could be part of a revised strategy in which Moscow seeks an accommodation with countries, such as Turkey, who have been long-time backs of the Syrian opposition and rebels.

On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry hosted a delegation from Syria’s Kurdish National Council.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov declared:

The sides exchanged views on the development of the situation in Syria and the tasks of political settlement of the Syrian crisis on the basis of the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012, corresponding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the International Syria Support Group.

It was stressed that it is important to involve representatives of the country’s all ethnic and religious groups to the intra-Syrian negotiating process in Geneva to find lasting solutions and decide on the future of a united, independent and sovereign Syria.

Russia has developed ties with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the leading Kurdish group in the conflict because of its YPG militia which has taken territory from the Islamic State — and also Syrian rebels — across northern Syria. However, other groups within the Kurdish National Council, formed under an October 2011 agreement, have had political clashes with the PYD.

The Russians may also have used the meeting to try and ease relations between the Kurdish groups and Turkey, which views the movement with suspicion because of the war with its Kurdish insurgency PKK.

Earlier this week, Moscow announced a breakthrough in its dispute with Ankara, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologizing for November’s downing of a Russian warplane and killing of its pilot near the Turkish-Syrian border. Both Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will soon visit Russia for discussions.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted the leader of the Syria’s Tomorrow movement, Ahmad al-Jarba to talk about “Russia’s efforts in the interests of political settlement”.

Founded in March, Syria’s Tomorrow is a relatively small political faction, but Jarba is a former President of the Syrian National Coalition, the main externally-based opposition movement.

The Foreign Ministry emphasized that the two men “discussed prospects for the United Nations-brokered intra-Syrian contacts in Geneva between delegations of the Syrian government and a wide spectrum of representatives of the Syrian opposition who condemn terrorism”.

Getting Out of A Military Challenge

The meetings with Jarba and the Kurdish National Council appear to be a re-launch of a Russian strategy to get out of an increasingly difficult political and military position in Syria.

Russia’s aerial intervention from last September, with thousands of strikes supporting ground offensives, had immediate success in propping up the Assad regime and preventing further rebel advances that threatened the collapse of the Syrian military.

However, the bombings, equipment, and “advisors” on the ground have not brought a decisive victory, particularly in the northwest where rebels have counter-attacks and regained some territory in the past three months.

Meanwhile, indirect talks between the regime and the Syrian opposition-rebel bloc from January to April in Geneva — brokered by the US and Russia — offered no political way out of the military stalemate. President Assad blocked any movement with his rejection of a transitional governing council, and the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee suspended participation when the regime continued bombing and sieges.

The High Negotiations Committee, created in Saudi Arabia in December, includes representatives of the Syrian National Coalition and leading rebel factions. Russia has tried unsuccessfully to get the involvement of Kurdish factions, notably the PYD, and Syria-based political groups in the discussions.

Rebels Claim Defeat of Pro-Assad Offensive North of Aleppo

Rebels are claiming that they have defeated the latest pro-Assad offensive north of Aleppo city.

The rebels said on Wednesday night that they have regained all positions in the al-Mallah Farms, beginning with the al-Isamat area (see map).

Al-Mallah is just to the east of the last major route from the north into opposition-held areas of Aleppo city. The Syrian military and foreign allies, enabled by Russian airstrikes, have been trying for months to cut off the road.

The pro-Assad forces, reportedly including elite units of the Syrian military and Iraqi and Palestinian militias, moved into the northern part of al-Mallah last weekend but were unable to advance into the south.

In nearby Handarat, the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra reportedly struck a regime operations headquarters with a car bomb.

Several officers were claimed to have been killed in the attack on the Amreet Medicine Factory.

At Least 5 Killed in Suicide Bombing of Kurds-Held Town on Turkish Border

At least five people have been killed by a suicide bomber who attack a local government office in Tal Abyad in northern Syria near the Turkish border.

Witnesses said scores were wounded, while State media put the toll at 7 dead and 25 injured.

Tal Abyad, about 100 km (62 miles) north of ISIS-held Raqqa, was captured by the Kurdish militia YPG last year from the Islamic State.

Video: Rebel Offensive in Latakia Province

Footage of rebels on the move in their offensive in Latakia Province in western Syria:

The offensive was launched last weekend in the Jabal Turkmen and Jabal al-Akrad mountains by units of the rebel bloc Jaish al-Fatah and the Free Syrian Army.

Rebels claim that they took more positions on Tuesday, as they close on the town of Kinsibba, lost to the regime in February.

Video from the area:

Video: Regime Missile Strikes Besieged Darayya

A regime missile strikes the besieged and bombarded town of Darayya, southwest of Damascus:

Darayya has been cut off by the Syrian military since November 2012.

A token shipment of food was allowed into the town this spring; however, the regime has maintained the siege while maintaining near-continuous shelling and airstrikes, including hundreds of barrel bombs.

So far pro-Assad forces have been unable to advance within the town.

Video: Journalist Kareem — I Survived A Missile Attack

Bilal Abdul Kareem of On the Ground News, a prominent frontline journalist in the Syrian conflict, talks about how he survived this week’s missile attack on the car in which he was travelling in northern Syria:

It is still unclear who fired the missile and why.

Kareem told the British organization CAGE, which is campaigning for an enquiry into the incident:

I don’t care if you like Nusra, Assad or Obama. I only bring you the news so you can make an informed decision. I don’t see a lot of other journalists around. I plan to continue doing the work we are doing. I’m not going to roll over and play dead for anybody.

US-Backed New Syrian Army Launches Anti-ISIS Offensive

The US-backed New Syrian Army has launched an offensive to capture the ISIS-held Abukamal in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

The NSA, created last year to challenge the Islamic State in the east, announced on Facebook on Wednesday morning that operations had begun.

The army said special forces were airdropped behind enemy lines, with attacks to the north, east, and south of the town, while “sleeper cells” were also activated.

A commander of the NSA’s Asala wa-al-Tanmiya Front said forces entered the town at down: “The clashes are inside the (town) and matters are not yet settled.”

The NSA said it had taken the defunct al-Hamdan airbase, five km (3 miles) northwest of the town, but ISIS claimed that it recaptured the base later in the morning.

The Islamic State then posted video claiming that it had repelled the attacks, showing off captured equipment and asserting that more than 40 NSA troops were killed:

The Islamic State captured Abukamal in 2014. The town is in Deir ez-Zor Province, a few kilometers from the Iraqi border. The NSA’s capture of the town would damage vital ISIS supply lines between Iraq and Syria.

Jordan Helicopters Hit ISIS in South

In southern Syria, the Jordanian Air Force has reportedly attacked the Islamic State for the first time, with helicopters bombing areas controlled by the Khaled Ben al-Waleed Army, an ISIS-affiliated group.

The opposition site Orient News said three Jordanian helicopters attacked with heavy machine guns in western Daraa Province, close to the border. The assault was close to ground clashes between the rebel Southern Front and the Khaled Ben al-Waleed Army.

Russia-Regime Airstrikes Kill 4 More Rescuers

The White Helmets civil defense organization reports the deaths of more volunteers from Russian-regime attacks:

The rescuers were responding north of Aleppo, where Russia has been carrying out sustained attacks as pro-Assad forces try to gain ground and close off the main route to opposition-held areas of the city.

In April, an airstrike on a White Helmets center in Atareb, west of Aleppo, killed five volunteers.

About 30 members have been slain by the aerial attacks, many as they tried to rescue those injured in initial strikes.

The burial of the four men:

Report: Rebels Now Using Anti-Air Missiles Near Damascus

Reports are growing — following the downing of a regime warplane and helicopter in the past week — that rebels near Damascus are now using anti-aircraft missile systems captured from the Syrian military.

The Italian news agency AKI claims, from an opposition source, that rebels have begun to use five Russian-manufactured 9K33 OSA short-range surface-to-air missile systems.

The source said the rebels captured six mobile missile platforms, five of them in working condition, in June 2013. However, they could not be used because the necessary codes to bring the systems on-line were lost when manuals were accidentally destroyed.

The codes have now supposedly been broken.

The source, a “high-level officer” who defected from the Syrian military, said the systems are still only being used in an “emergency situation” because of the fear of bombardment.

He said that a Russian raid last October had damaged one system, but that it has been repaired.

The details of AKI’s report cannot be confirmed. However, the leading rebel faction Jaish al-Islam has downed a MiG-29 warplane and a hovering regime helicopter in the Qalamoun region in the past week.

A Jaish al-Islam official confirmed on Tuesday that the warplanes were shot down by OSAs captured from regime forces.

The anti-air systems may deter bombing raids by the Syrian Air Force. Russian-piloted warplanes are probably able to defend themselves against the OSA missiles.

Syria’s opposition and rebels have sought anti-air capability since 2012 to counter the sustained bombing, including of civilian areas, by the regime. The US has refused to supply the systems and has pressured other countries not to do so.