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Syria

Paris hosts foreign ministers for diplomatic meeting on Syria conflict

The US secretary of state and foreign ministers from Europe and the Middle East have met in the French capital to discuss ways of ending the war in Syria. All calls for a stop to the fighting have so far failed.

Watch video 02:00

Battle for Aleppo nearing the end?

Saturday's meeting in Paris brought together the top diplomats from the United States, Europe and the Middle East in another attempt to move toward an effective peace process in Syria, where a nearly six years of war have killed more than 300,000 people.

Among those at the meeting were US Secretary of State John Kerry, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, along with their counterparts from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Representatives from the Syrian opposition were also present.

Destroyed buildings in Aleppo (Reuterse/Sana)

Thousands of civilians have been displaced in Aleppo

'Consolidating a dictator'

Following the talks, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the opposition in Syria was ready to resume negotiations with the regime "without preconditions."

"We need to tie down the conditions for a genuine political transition, and negotiations must resume on a clear basis within the framework of the UN resolution," he said, referring to a roadmap for ending the war.

Ayrault also condemned the actions of Russia, which is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict, saying Moscow's operations were aimed more at "consolidating a dictator" than fighting terrorism - the reason Russia has often put forward to explain its involvement.

The talks were to focus on ensuring humanitarian access to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where Syrian forces backed by Iranian militias and Russian airstrikes have been conducting a fierce offensive against rebel-held areas that has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced thousands more.

The Paris discussions also aimed at paving the way for renewed peace talks in Geneva between all of the warring parties.

'Immeasurable suffering'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier voiced his sadness at the situation in Aleppo.

"The suffering of the people in Aleppo is immeasurable," he said, adding that it was a moral and legal duty to ease the suffering. "It's come to the point where we lack the ability to express, we lack the words to describe what is taking place day after day in Aleppo."

His US counterpart said the Syrian regime's "indiscriminate bombing" of Aleppo amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes and called on its backers, including Russia, "to do their utmost to bring it to a close."

New York UN Klimavertrag Versammlung John Kerry (picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Wenig)

Kerry urged Russia to show "grace" at Geneva talks

Another meeting with American and Russian officials on the Syrian war was to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, later Saturday.

Strained ties with Russia

The diplomats' comments came as Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin seem intent on pushing their advantage as government and allied forces draw close to completing the recapture of Aleppo, the eastern parts of which have been held by anti-government rebels since 2012.

Observers say that the recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian regime will, however, not spell an end to the conflict in Syria, as large swathes of the country are still under the control of Islamist extremists such as the Nusra Front and the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS), as well as US-backed Kurdish militias.

On Wednesday, Western powers, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany, called for an "immediate ceasefire" as the humanitarian crisis in the city grows amid increasing reports of war crimes on both sides.

The UN General Assembly also voted to pass a resolution on Friday that demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria and urgent humanitarian aid access. Russia, China and Iran all voted against the resolution, which is non-binding.

The conflict has exacerbated tensions between the West and Russia, with the US and Europe insisting that Assad should step down to bring eventual peace to Syria, while Moscow continues to back the Syrian leader in a bid to strengthen its foothold in the Middle East.

More US troops to Syria

Syrien Rakka U.S. Soldaten (Reuters/R. Said)

US soldiers are helping in the bid to retake Raqqa

In another development on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said as many as 200 more American troops were being sent to Syria to help Kurdish and Arab fighters trying to retake the key IS stronghold of Raqqa.

Three hundred US troops are already in the country, authorized to recruit, organize, train and advise local forces in their fight against IS.

Announcing the deployment at a security conference in Manama, Bahrain, Carter also decried Russia's operations in Syria, saying Moscow had "only inflamed the civil war and prolonged suffering of the Syrian people." 

Watch video 03:12

Hundreds missing after fleeing eastern Aleppo, UN says – "Der Spiegel" correspondent Christoph Reuter in Beirut

tj/jlw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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