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Top diplomats to meet in Munich for Syrian peace effort

Foreign ministers from 17 nations are gathering in Munich for a planned peace conference hosted by the US and Russia. Moscow has been supporting a massive Syrian regime offensive on the rebel-held city of Aleppo.

Thursday's meeting is set to include US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as representatives from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other world and regional powers.

"We are ready to discuss the modalities of a ceasefire in Syria," Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, told reporters in Moscow.

"This is what will be talked about in Munich," he said, according to the Russian TASS news agency.

Watch video 02:12

500 deaths in Aleppo in last 10 days

The international talks on Syria come only a day before the annual

Munich Security Conference,

which draws scores of diplomats, politicians and security experts from all over the world.

Last rebel city under siege

The diplomats hope to restart the Syrian peace talks which were suspended last week, when pro-government forces started a major

offensive against key rebel strongholds.

In response, representatives of the anti-government forces walked out of the talks, refusing to negotiate as long as the fighting continued.

During recent days, Damascus' troops have successfully retaken a number of rebel-held territories and are currently besieging Aleppo, with Russian warplanes providing intensive air support.

The US and its allies have criticized Moscow for its bombing campaign, accusing it of trying to

undermine the peace process.

The Kremlin has denied the accusations.

On Thursday, Russia's defense ministry also rejected a claim from the Pentagon that Russian planes had targeted hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo, accusing the US-led coalition of bombing the city instead.

Karte russische Luftangriffe in Syrien

'Great hopes' ahead of Munich meet

Moscow is now proposing a truce to start on March 1, according to US officials. However Washington is pushing for an immediate ceasefire, with many analysts predicting that anti-Assad forces could sustain irreversible losses in coming days.

"We will approach this meeting in Munich with great hopes that this will be a telling moment," Secretary of State Kerry said earlier this week.

Kerry is set to meet the UN and Arab League's special Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, and Adel al-Jubeir, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, later on Thursday.

dj/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Interfax)

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