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Shoigu Says U.S., Russia Near Agreement On Defusing Aleppo Crisis

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia and the United States are near an agreement on defusing the crisis in Syria's Aleppo.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia and the United States are near an agreement on defusing the crisis in Syria's Aleppo.

Russia's defense minister said Moscow and Washington are getting closer to an agreement that would help defuse the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Syrian city Aleppo.

"Step by step, we are nearing an arrangement -- I'm talking exclusively about Aleppo -- that would allow us to find common ground and start fighting together for bringing peace to that territory, that long-suffering land so that people could return to their homes," Sergei Shoigu told Rossia 24 television on August 15.

Shoigu added that Russian representatives are "in a very active stage of talks with our American colleagues."

Fighting for Aleppo, once Syria's commercial capital and its largest city, has become the focal point of the nation's civil war, now in its sixth year.

U.S. officials said, however, that agreement is not close.

"We have nothing to announce at this time," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. "We remain in close contact [with Russian officials]."

Russia and the United States have been discussing greater coordination in Syria, but they have been unable to reach agreement on which militant groups could be targeted.

Russia has criticized what it contends is U.S. reluctance to persuade the Syrian opposition groups it supports to withdraw from areas controlled by the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria.

Shoigu said in the TV interview that extremists in Syria are often positioned near groups that the United States considers moderate.

The Al-Nusra Front has rebranded itself and now goes under the name of Fath al-Sham, an apparent attempt to evade Russian and U.S.-led air strikes targeting militants. Many have dismissed the name change as window dressing.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, on August 15 described the battle for Aleppo as "one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times."

"No one and nowhere is safe. Shell fire is constant, with houses, schools, and hospitals all in the line of fire. People live in a state of fear. Children have been traumatized. The scale of the suffering is immense," Maurer said.

The Red Cross repeated its call on all warring parties to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver supplies to civilians in desperate need of food and clean water across Aleppo.

Shoigu said Russia has delivered aid to Aleppo and is helping to rebuild damaged water-pumping stations. About 700,000 people are still living in Aleppo and residents in the eastern part of the city were "hostages of armed groups," he said.

Earlier on August 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrian militants had used a temporary cease-fire around Aleppo to regroup.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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