PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday


UPDATE 1800 GMT: In the final sentences of his press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov clearly equated Syrian rebels with the “terrorists” of Jabhat al-Nusra.

The statement both rationalizes the thousands of Russian airstrikes on opposition territory and rebels since late September, and justifies any action by a new US-Russian command-and-control center against rebel factions:

There has been enough time in the past months for moderate groups in Syria to join the ceasefire and separate themselves from the real terrorists. I believe that those who have not done so should not be considered constructive opposition or moderate opposition. Those are people who are trying to benefit in their own way from dealing and cooperating with terrorists.

We understand the complications that our American counterparts have to face, especially as regards practical steps aimed at separating and distinguishing moderate opposition groups from the terrorists such as, primarily, the al-Nusrah Front. But we in Russia are also convinced that in recent months, such complications could have been already overcome or removed. The measures that we have agreed on and that we will have to get down to implementing in the days and weeks to come, we hope that those measures will enable us to [act] after a certain deadline.

I believe that those who have stayed in those positions despite the many months and the numerous calls to leave them and to separate themselves from the terrorists, maybe those people are not very different from terrorists themselves.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: The US and Russia have announced a tentative deal to coordinate airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.

After eight hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would deal with the causes of the collapse of a February 27 “cessation of hostilities”: bombings by the Assad regime and Jabhat al-Nusra attacks.

“We agreed to steps that, if implemented in good faith, can address two serious problems that I just described about the cessation,” Kerry said. “It is possible to help restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce violence and help create the space for a genuine political transition.”

However, Kerry refused to set out the terms of the agreement:

The concrete steps that we have agreed on are not going to be laid out in public in some long list because we want them to work and because they need more work in order to work.

I want to emphasize, though, that they are not based on trust.

The US proposal creates a joint command-and-control center in Amman, Jordan to exchange intelligence and coordinate aerial operations. Kerry arrived in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the initiative, first meeting President Vladimir Putin.

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

Critics of the proposal, approved by President Obama two weeks ago, question whether Russia will confine itself to strikes on the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. They note that the vast majority of Moscow’s airstrikes, since its intervention in late September, have been on opposition territory — including numerous attacks on civilian sites.

The critics also question whether Russia, the essential supporter of the Assad regime, will apply any pressure to end bombings and sieges. The continued attacks — as well as President Assad’s refusal of any transitional governing authority — were the chief causes of the breakdowns of talks, in Geneva between January and April, seeking a resolution of Syria’s 5 1/2-year conflict.

A Focus on Nusra

Kerry avoided those issues. He focused instead on Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to Al Qa’eda, and warning — despite the lack of any evidence — that it could carry out terrorist operations such as Thursday night’s deadly truck attack that killed 84 people in Nice in southern France:

If some critic is criticizing the United States or Russia for going after Al Nusra, which is a terrorist organization, because they’re good fighters against Assad, they have their priorities completely screwed up.

The fact is that Nusra is plotting against countries in the world. What happened in Nice last night could just as well come from Nusra or wherever it came from as any other entity. Because that’s what they do.

Kerry’s words echoed the long-standing Russian line — and that of the Assad regime — that “terrorists” must be defeated in Syria.

Lavrov re-asserted the position on Friday, adding implied criticism of foreign powers giving support to Syria’s rebels and opposition: “There were cases in history when some countries were trying to play with extremist and terrorist groups, hoping to use them to achieve their own geopolitical goals to topple undesirable regimes.”

He denied that Russia, with its airstrikes and ground advisors alongside regime forces, had broken the February cessation of hostilities: “A lot could be said on who is to blame.”

Video: Claimed Explosions at Regime Defense Factories Near Aleppo

Activists report a series of large explosions on Saturday night at the regime’s defense factories in Safira, east of Aleppo city:

Scores Killed and Injured in pro-Assad Airstrikes on Aleppo Neighborhood

Activists report that scores of people have been killed and wounded in airstrikes by Russian and regime warplanes on the opposition-held al-Fardos district in Aleppo city:

Videos: Rebels in Fighting in West Aleppo

Rebels of the Sham Front in fighting in Bani Zeid in western Aleppo city:

Pro-Assad forces have been trying to advance in districts in western Aleppo such as Bani Zeid, Khalidiyah, and Layramoun. At the same, the Syrian military and foreign militias — supported by intense Russian airstrikes — have advanced north of the city, effectively closing the last route into opposition areas.

Rebels try to fend off regime attempt to take factories in Khalidiyah: