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Russia to continue air strikes in Syria as peace talks inch on

Russia's foreign minister has said Moscow will not stop its bombing campaign in the war-torn country. His words come as international peace talks resume in Geneva.

Russia would not stop its air strikes until militant groups in Syria were defeated, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

"Russian air strikes will not cease until we truly defeat the terrorist organizations ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra," Lavrov told reporters in Oman, according to the AFP news agency. ISIL is another name for the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

"And I don't see why these air strikes should stop," Lavrov added.

Russia launched a bombing campaign toward the end of September in a move that was seen by many Western powers as an effort to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Russian ally.

Stop-and-go negotiations

The ongoing air strikes pose a risk of stalling Syria peace negotiations in Geneva. Some opposition leaders participating in the talks have called for a complete halt to Moscow's bombing campaign. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry also called on Russia to heed an agreed-upon ceasefire while peace talks were underway. However, the ceasefire apparently doesn't apply to attacks on IS or al-Nusra militants, as Kerry said the same day that the United States would continue to support military action against those terrorist organizations in the country.

The UN-sponsored talks formally began on Monday, despite the main opposition umbrella group initially refusing to join. That group, the Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC), belatedly dispatched a delegation to the talks in Switzerland, but has since said it will not participate in negotiations unless bombings of rebel-controlled areas in Syria by Russian and government forces cease.

An end in sight?

Mohammed Alloush, the opposition's chief negotiator, said he wasn't optimistic about the talks going forward, even as another top opposition leader, Riad Hijab, arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to participate, according to the AFP news agency.

Also on Wednesday, a representative for Assad's government said the first phase of the negotiations was likely to take longer than expected. The talks, which some say could last as long as six months, are part of a UN resolution passed in December that lays out the foundation for an 18-month-long political transition for Syria.

On Tuesday, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura warned the talks were the only hope for ending the ongoing conflict in the country, which began in 2011 and has seen tens of thousands killed and millions displaced.

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blc/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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