PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin greets US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday night


UPDATE 1445 GMT: In his first notable statement on the Kerry-Putin talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has played down any prospect of cooperation.

Peskov said the discussions were “rather constructive, rather honest, and detailed”. However, he continued:

Many questions remain connected with real cooperation during the operation in Syria….

They discussed different cooperation formats, but the topic of direct cooperation between the military in combating terrorism in Syria was not mentioned….

Unfortunately, we are not much closer to real cooperation in order to increase the effectiveness of efforts to combatting terrorism in Syria.

Peskov also pushed back any thought that Kerry would bring a change in the Russian position on the future of Syrian President: “As for Assad’s fate, Russia’s well-known position has not undergone any changes.”

ORIGINAL ENTRY: In a three-hour meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Secretary of State John Kerry has discussed an American proposal for US-Russian cooperation inside Syria.

The talks at the Kremlin lasted until 1 a.m. local time.

Kerry brought a plan, approved by President Obama two weeks ago, for the US and Russia to exchange intelligence and possibly coordinate airstrikes on the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. The operations would be overseen by a command-and-control headquarters with US and Russian military officers and intelligence operatives.

In return, Washington is asking Russia to obtain a halt to the Assad regime’s bombing and to encourage President Assad to return to negotiations for a political resolution of the 5 1/2-year conflict.

See Syria Audio Analysis: Kerry’s Visit to Russia
Syria Analysis: Kerry Sells Out to Russia Over Assad

The State Department’s summary of the meeting with Putin said that there were discussions about increasing military and intelligence cooperation, and that Kerry “emphasized that [without] concrete, near-term steps, diplomatic efforts [to end the war] could not continue indefinitely”.

The Department also Kerry expressed concern about repeated violations by the Assad regime of a now-dormant February 27 cessation of hostilities.

The statement said discussions between Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will explore initiatives in more detail.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he would refrain from comment until Russian officials heard from Kerry, but that Russia in general favored cooperation with the US over Syria.

At the start of the meeting with Kerry, President Putin — who has repeatedly criticized the US for failing to coordinate with Russia — said that his last conversation with US counterpart Barack Obama had convinced him that both sides were sincere in efforts to find a solution in Syria.

“I hope after today’s consultations you’ll be able to advise him of the progress made and possible headway for us to make,” he told Kerry.

Southern Front Announces Southern Offensive, But Other Rebels Sceptical

The Southern Front has announced an offensive in Quneitra Province in southern Syria.

The Front said in a statement that 11 factions will participate in the battle. The official spokesman for the Furqan Brigades, Suhaib Rahil, said the bloc responded to the appeal for Darayya [southwest of Damascus] and Aleppo”, where pro-Assad forces have been advancing and tightening sieges.

The Front, associated with the Free Syrian Army, has been criticized by other rebels and activists for inaction for more than a year since a failed assault in the city of Daraa on the Jordanian border. Local activists have also blamed the international Military Operations Center for containing the Front through the withholding of arms and supplies.

Other rebel factions have expressed scepticism about today’s announcement, arguing that the MOC will give no more than token assistance and will not tolerate any significant advance.

In the past week, the Syrian military and allied militias have taken part of Darayya, besieged since November 2012, after seizing nearby farmland needed for the town’s limited food supply. On Friday, armored vehicles tried to advance amid buildings, under the cover of heavy shelling.

Rahil insisted, “We will not forget the first blood shed in Darayya.”

White Helmets civil defense workers search for a source of drinking water:

Rebels of Ahrar al-Sham Responds to Amnesty Report on Abuses

The leading rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham has responded to an Amnesty International report which found that Jabhat al-Nusra and some “extremist” groups had committed killings and abuses in northwest Syria.

Amnesty said on July 5 that some groups were employing the “same methods of torture that are routinely used” by the Assad regime. It named Jabhat al-Nusra and four rebel factions in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces: the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Ahrar al-Sham, the Shamia Front, and Division 16.

The report cited five cases of alleged torture and 24 cases of abductions between 2012 and 2016, including detention of activists, members of religious minorities, and children.

See Syria Feature: Amnesty — Some Rebels Using “Same Methods of Torture” as Assad Regime

The Ahrar statement said that the “exceptional” cases are under investigation and that the report ignored the “positive public behavior” of rebels despite harsh conditions. It also noted that Amnesty had not pursued a similar interrogation of the abuses of the Assad regime.

A report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights in June found that 99% of tortures and abuses are committed by regime forces.

Ahrar al-Sham also said that Amnesty should not link Ahrar with Jabhat al-Nusra. The faction specifically denied accusations that it had kidnapped Christians and forced them to convert to Islam and that it had demolished churches.

Video: Pro-Assad Airstrikes Knock Out Another Hospital, Kill 9

Pro-Assad airstrikes have taken another hospital in northwest Syria out of service while killing at least nine people.

The hospital in Kafr Hamra in Aleppo Province was struck on Thursday:

Russian and regime strikes have destroyed or damaged dozens of medical facilities across Syria since Moscow’s intervention last September, killing hundreds of medical staff, patients, and rescuers.