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29 Feb, 2016 23:27

Turkey’s ‘provocative’ military actions could jeopardize Syria ceasefire – Russian military

Turkey’s “provocative” military buildup on the border and shelling of the Syrian territory could thwart the truce and disrupt the peace process in the Arab Republic, said the head of the Russian ceasefire monitoring center Lt. Gen. Sergey Kuralenko.

Turkey is strengthening its military positions on the border with Syria and is concentrating armored vehicles in the area, Lieutenant General Kuralenko said, denouncing these moves as “obviously provocative steps that could lead to a breakdown of the ceasefire and the peace process in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The Russian military has examined footage taken by a Russian TV crew near the Syrian city of Tel Abyad located not far from the Turkish border, which demonstrated Ankara’s military “organizing firing positions and concentrating armored vehicles near the border,” Kuralenko said.

Meanwhile Turkish artillery fired at least 50 rounds at alleged Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets north of Aleppo as part of the US-led coalition's offensive, according to local media reports.

The truce in Syria is generally being observed, the Lt. Gen. added, noting however that terrorist groups shelled populated areas at least seven times on Monday.

“In general, the truce between the governmental troops and the opposition forces on the territory of the Syrian Arab republic holds,” he said adding that a Russian center in Latakia monitors the situation in the six Syrian provinces of Hama, Homs, Latakia, Damascus, Aleppo and Deraa on a 24-hour basis.

“Within the last 24 hours, officers from the Russian [ceasefire monitoring] center as well as Syrian government forces and self-defense forces recorded seven cases of terrorist groups shelling Syrian residential areas,” he told journalists.

Kuralenko said that Al-Nusra militants attacked Syrian Kurdish positions in Aleppo province using artillery, while IS terrorists continued shelling the road between the cities of Hama and Aleppo, making the “delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo and nearby provinces impossible.”

The Lieutenant General stressed that governmental forces and the opposition achieved “significant progress” in the reconciliation process in four Syrian provinces, although he did not mention them by name.

The head of the Russian ceasefire monitoring center also discussed the first results of the truce with his US counterpart and they both expressed satisfaction with the joint efforts. “We discussed the first results of the ceasefire and signified satisfaction with the concerted efforts,” Kuralenko told journalists referring to a telephone conversation with representatives of the US ceasefire monitoring center in Amman.

In the meantime, Russian aircraft carried out several air strikes against Al-Nusra front militants to “stabilize the situation” in the regions north of the city of Aleppo, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Al-Nusra extremists were shelling the Syrian army positions from the Narb-Nafsa village located north of Aleppo. In response, Russian Air Space Forces “carried out missile and bomb attacks against… Al Nusra units in the region and hit positions of terrorists near Narb-Nafsa…” the statement said.

At the same time, the Russian ceasefire monitoring center once again stressed that Russian aircraft conducted no strikes against the groups which joined the truce.

Secretary of State John Kerry said that Moscow and Washington have worked out a mechanism to track down all reported violations of the ceasefire in Syria through specially set up teams in Geneva and Amman. Kerry specified that he and Lavrov agreed that the mechanism should ensure that any strikes in Syria target only Islamic State and Al Nusra Front.

"We are going to track down each alleged violation and work even more now to put in place a construct which will help us to guarantee that missions are indeed missions against Nusra or missions against Daesh [the Arabic name for IS]," Kerry said at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“We have agreed that while there has been some number of violations reported on both sides, and we take them all very seriously, we do not want to litigate these in a public fashion in the press. We want to work to eliminate them. And we have agreed on the process by which we will do that,” he added.

The US’ chief diplomat also noted that the public should not be “surprised” that bombs will be dropped on extremists in Syria.

The ceasefire in Syria was brokered by leading world powers, including the US and Russia, and is meant to pave the way to reconciliation between the Syrian government and moderate rebel forces, which would together agree on a peaceful transition in the country. Some of the stronger forces in Syria, including the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Nusra Front, are not subject to the ceasefire.