Syrian rebels demand US action ahead of peace talks

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Rebel groups urged US President Barack Obama to do more to stop Russian bombing raids in Syria as pressure mounted on Washington ahead of a new round of peace talks this week.

World powers are meeting in Germany on Thursday to try to revive the first effort in two years to negotiate an end to the war after it faltered in the starting blocks last week.

But with Moscow backing a Syrian government push for all-out military victory against Western-backed rebels, Western officials and opposition delegates hold out little hope.

Opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat said Obama could stop the Russian attacks, although he did not spell out how.

“If he is willing to save our children it is really the time now to say ‘no’ to these strikes in Syria,” he told Reuters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more humanitarian aid access ahead of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Munich.

Moscow said Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed on Wednesday on the need for a ceasefire in Syria and the provision of humanitarian aid to blockaded areas.

But one UN diplomatic source said Russia was “stringing Kerry along” in order to provide diplomatic cover for Moscow’s real goal – to help President Bashar al-Assad win on the battlefield instead of compromising at the negotiating table.

“It’s clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn’t want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win,” said the diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A senior adviser to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, told Reuters in Damascus on Tuesday that there would be no let-up in the army advance, which aimed to recapture the city of Aleppo from rebels and secure Syria’s border with Turkey.

Asked how soon a ceasefire could be put in place, a Russian diplomat who declined to be identified said: “Maybe March, I think so.” The Washington Post said Moscow had sent a letter to Washington this week proposing to stop its bombing on March 1, allowing it to continue for another three weeks.