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Russia establishes anti-terror contacts with Syrian opposition forces

MOSCOW, (Xinhua) — Russia on Tuesday confirmed that it had established contacts with moderate Syrian opposition to better coordinate anti-terrorism operations and facilitate Syrian reconciliation process.

Contacts and coordination groups were established with “patriotic forces” in Syrian aimed at synergizing efforts to fight terrorists, Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, head of the Russian General Staff Main Operations Directorate, said on Tuesday.

“In the framework of a broader international coalition on the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, we have established contacts with opposition leaders and field commanders of several opposition units,” Kartapolov said.

“Despite their four-year standoff with government forces, these patriotic forces put ideas of Syria’s integrity and sovereignty as a terrorism-free state ahead of their political ambitions,” an online official statement quoted Kartapolov as saying.

Using cooridates provided by the Syrian opposition, Russia jets bombed 24 targets in Syria Tuesday, he said.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov later confirmed the “fruitful nature” of such contacts, saying such links are “timely and beneficial for both the anti-terrorism fight and the progress of Syria’s political process.”

According to Kartapolov, joint drills on flight safety were also carried out Tuesday between Russian and U.S. air forces in Syria.

“During the drills in a specially designated zone, the crews of Russian and (the U.S.-led) international coalition planes maneuvered to a safe distance of 3 nautical miles from each other, established radio contacts on a designated frequency, and exchanged messages about parameters of their flights in Russian and English,” the general explained.

Kartapolov added that pilots of the two countries also exercised the notification, organization, interaction of flight missions as well as information exchange between operation centers.

The Syrian crisis and the international anti-terror fight seem to be at a crossroads as more major countries and regional players were involved in last week’s bilateral and multilateral meetings held in Austria’s Vienna.

Failing to find a common ground on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad though, all parties at the meeting agreed all the terrorist groups in Syria should be defeated and a diplomatic process be initiated to find a solution for Syrian crisis.

Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday urged all interested sides to discuss and confirm the list of terrorist organizations.

The ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted that it is agreed during the Vienna meeting that relevant consultations and contacts would be held between experts to reach consensus on who we should consider terrorists in Syria.

“Russia has been sticking to the position that it is up to the Syrian people to decide on the fate of Syria’s president,” the spokeswoman said, warning regime change in Syria could become a global-scale disaster.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov noted that Russia is planning to host a third meeting next week between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition to discuss ways of reaching a settlement in the war-torn country.

“There are no problems with the government, which has been talking about it for a long time. Currently, we are in contact with representatives of different opposition organizations persuading them to come to Moscow,” Bogdanov told journalists.

He added that the plan was part of Moscow’s efforts to pave the way for initiating a political settlement following the Vienna meeting.

Moscow hosted two rounds of intra-Syrian talks in January and April. Since Sept. 30, Russia has been conducting precision airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria at the request of Syrian President Assad.

Russian General Kartapolov concluded on Tuesday that since the beginning of the Russian airstrike mission, 2,084 terrorist military infrastructures were targeted during 1,631 sorties made by the Russian air forces in Syria.

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