Moscow (AFP) – Russia is close to joining forces with the United States around Syria’s ravaged second city of Aleppo, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in comments aired Monday.
“Step by step we are getting closer to the situation in which — and I’m only speaking about Aleppo here — we will be able to begin battling together so that there is peace on this territory,” Shoigu told Rossiya 24 television.
In the interview conducted on Saturday but shown only Monday, Shoigu said Moscow was in “active” negotiations regarding the city, where Russian planes and regime forces are battling rebels for control.
But in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau refused to confirm any collaboration.
“We have nothing to announce at this time,” Trudeau told AFP.
Six Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers hit ISIS positions outside the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, north-eastern Syria, on Sunday, the Defense Ministry said. The air strike destroyed militants’ command centers, ammunition depots as well as numerous tanks, largely decimating terrorists’ manpower.
“We speak regularly with Russian officials about ways to strengthen the cessation of hostilities, improve humanitarian access and bring about the conditions necessary to find a political solution to this conflict,” she added.
Shoigu acknowledged that Moscow and Washington were still deeply at odds over the situation in Aleppo, accusing rebels of holding civilians hostage and waging brutal suicide bombings.
“In the eastern part of Aleppo, people are hostages,” he said, accusing the rebels of planting bombs along escape routes established by Russia and of staging executions.
He blasted accusations that Moscow has imposed a blockade on rebel-held areas, calling them “untrue” and “propaganda”.
Shoigu said suicide attacks by rebels have included loading an armoured vehicle with explosives and welding it shut.
“That’s moderate opposition? Who is this?” he said.
“There are many issues there that we are yet to decide on with our American colleagues,” he said of Aleppo. “We are now in a very active stage of negotiations with American colleagues.”