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UK, US, France block Russia’s bid to blacklist Syria militant groups

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A wide view of the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria on February 24, 2016 at the UN in New York. © AFP

Britain, France, the United States and Ukraine have reportedly blocked Russia’s request to add two Syrian militant groups to a UN terror blacklist and sideline them from the Syrian peace process.

The four members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday blocked Russia’s request that the so-called Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ahrar al-Sham terrorist groups be added to the sanctions list for their ties to al-Qaeda and Daesh militant groups.

Adding names to the UN sanctions list requires a consensus decision from the 15-member council.

“Russia publicly attempting to designate groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities could have damaging consequences to the cessation just as we are trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground,” said a spokesperson for the US mission to the United Nations.

“Now is not the time to shift course, but rather double-down on our efforts toward a reduction in violence,” the US official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Security Council diplomat said blacklisting the two groups would be “seriously counter-productive, damaging both efforts to maintain the cessation of hostilities and resume peace negotiations in Geneva.”

The UN official said that isolating the militants groups from the mainstream opposition would result in a more hard-line stance and drive them away from the search for a political settlement.

“It would provide a pretext for yet more moderate areas to come under target,” he said.

Jaish al-Islam is a member of the so-called opposition group High Negotiations Committee (HNC) which is in peace talks with the Damascus government.

Moscow did not comment directly on the rejection of its bid at the UN, but it warned that Russia still considers any opposition group that collaborates with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front to be a fair target for Russian and Syrian forces.

“Those forces of the Syrian opposition that demonstrate a sober approach, that stand for Syria's territorial integrity, and are ready to take part in the political process in the interests of the nation must completely dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The development comes as Moscow said on Tuesday that the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) would meet in Vienna, Austria, on May 17 to try to get peace efforts back on track.

Lavrov, Zarif discuss Syria truce

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed the implementation of a cease-fire in Syria during a phone conversation on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcomes his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting in Moscow on August 17, 2015. © AFP

“It was stressed that during the planned meeting of the International Syria Support Group, the primary focus should be ... the fight against Islamic State (Daesh) and al-Nusra and stopping their supply channels from abroad,” the statement said.

Iran has time and again stressed the need for a political solution to the crisis, noting the fate of the Syrian government must be determined by Syrians only.

The truce, brokered by Russia and the United States, went into effect late February in a bid to facilitate negotiations between warring sides to the conflict.

The latest round of the indirect UN-brokered negotiations on the Syrian crisis began in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 13.

However, top negotiators from Saudi-linked opposition group HNC quit the talks, citing what they claimed to be the Syrian government’s violation of the truce.

Jordan to buy US-made TOW missiles

Meanwhile, the US firm Raytheon said in a statement on Tuesday that Jordan has signed a contract to buy TOW anti-tank missiles, which has been used by Syrian militants since 2014.

This screen grab shows a so-called Free Syrian Army militant operating a US-made BGM-71 TOW missile in Syria.

The Arizona-based arms giant said the contract was signed between the Jordanian army and the US defense department, without specifying the contract's amount or the number of missiles, but said it would begin deliveries “this year.”

Raytheon has already delivered “more than 690,000 TOW missiles to US and allied warfighters,” the statement said.

The so-called Free Syrian Army has recently released video footage showing a laser-guided BGM-71 TOWs missile being fired at a rooftop where unidentified military personnel had gathered, according to the Daily Beast.

The video identified the targets as Russian officers but did not disclose the exact location of the attack apart from noting that it was somewhere near Syria’s coast.

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