BEIRUT — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):
The chief of the Russian General Staff says Russia is likely to scale down its military presence in Syria “significantly” before the year’s end.
Moscow embarked on an air campaign in Syria in October 2015 to prop up its longtime ally President Bashar Assad. Russia’s operation ultimately helped to turn the tide of the war in Assad’s favor.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov said in comments carried by Russian news agencies Thursday that the scale-down that Putin announced earlier this week will be “significant.”
Gerasimov said that two Russian bases and the Center for Reconciliation, which is responsible for monitoring truce in several areas in Syria, will stay as well as “a number of necessary structures to keep the situation where it is now.”
Syria opposition representatives meeting in the Saudi capital have called for direct and unconditional negotiations with the Syrian government that would lead to the launch of a transition period.
The opposition didn’t condition its participation in the U.N-based negotiations on the departure of President Bashar Assad from office.
However, in a final communique obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, they said a peaceful and unbiased transitional period will not be possible without Assad first leaving office.
It is the first time the opposition has called on the U.N. to arrange for direct talks with the government. It also signals a degree of flexibility on Assad’s role in the transition period.
Russia, the main backer of Assad, has been pushing for new political talks, saying “there is a real chance” to end the conflict. Moscow and opposition members it backs have demanded the launch of an “unconditional” process.
Russia’s chief military officer says the nation could reduce its military presence in Syria.
Thursday’s statement from Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted counterparts from Turkey and Iran for talks on advancing peace process in Syria. Asked if the Russian force in Syria will be scaled down, Gerasimov said “it probably will,” according to Russian news agencies.
With the Syrian government controlling most of the country and Islamic State group fighters in disarray, Putin said during talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this week that Russia’s military campaign in Syria is wrapping up — though he made no mention of the Russian presence in Syria, which Moscow is not likely to give up.
A top Turkish ruling party official says Ankara supports a political solution for Syria but retains its “red lines” on the subject of Syrian President Bashar Assad remaining president.
Mahir Unal, the spokesman of the Justice and Development Party, says Turkey made clear its reservations about Assad having any future role in Syria “after all these deaths” during a trilateral meeting with Russia and Iran that took place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Wednesday.
Unal also said Turkey emphasized at the Sochi meeting that there must be negotiations between Assad and the opposition, which Ankara has supported from the start of the Syrian civil war.
Turkey also wants Syria to remain united and not break up, and opposes Syrian Kurdish fighters participating in negotiations on Syria’s future.