Terrorist group Al-Nusra Front is receiving daily arms shipments across the border from Turkey, the Russian General Staff says. The Al-Qaeda offshoot used the truce between government forces and moderate rebels in Syria to regroup and renew hostilities.
Al-Nusra Front remains a major destabilizing factor in Syria, Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy told journalists on Friday.
“Damascus is being continuously shelled from Eastern Ghouta. There were numerous attempts to capture power station near Homs and block the road connecting Aleppo and Damascus. The flow of trucks carrying weapons and ammunition from Turkey continues, with border crossings reported on daily basis,” he said.
The general added that Al-Nusra Front attacks are confirmed by other nations as well, and that they agree with Russia’s assessment of the negative impact of the militant group.
“It’s obvious that the terrorist group, which operates in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, is currently the biggest stumbling block for the process of expanding the truce to new territories in northern Syria,” Rudskoy said.
Al-Nusra Front benefited from the truce because some of the territories under its control are mixed with those, which were designated as held by so-called moderate rebel forces and which are excluded from Russian airstrike missions, he stressed.
In some areas Al-Nusra Front managed to take initiative, Rudskoy said. Three villages were captured by the terrorists from the government in the last few days while heavy fighting continues in the northern part of Aleppo city.
The Russian General Staff said that pressure exerted by Russia on armed groups in Syria continues to bear fruit. Over the last few days 17 armed groups, many of which were influenced by or pledged allegiance to Al-Nusra Front, agreed to join the truce. The general says that looming bombings of the terrorist forces, which Russia suggested to carry out together with the Americans, gave an incentive to the switch of sides.
Russia is assisting Syrian forces in their fight against terrorist groups and attempts to reconcile with rebels, who are willing to seek a peace transition. The effort is undermined by the fact that terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front are not part of the US and Russia-negotiated ceasefire and continue hostilities. Al-Nusra Front in particular regularly attacks both rebels and government forces in an apparent attempt to derail the truce.
Moscow wants to intensify airstrikes on Al-Nusra Front positions, but is putting them on hold due to the murky borders between the extremist group and militants, who are supposedly supporting the truce. Russia has asked the US to put pressure on the rebels, so that a clear distinction could be established between their territories and those of the terrorists.
“Our American partners are stalling the process of differentiation between the opposition groups under their control and the terrorist, which not only discredits the entire so-called moderate opposition, but also derails the peace process and leads to a renewal of hostilities in Syria,” Rudskoy warned.
Another problem comes from fringe Islamist groups like Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. Russia says neither is truly committed to the peace process and both have committed numerous atrocities. Moscow wants them acknowledged as terrorists and legitimate targets for airstrikes. The US opposes this, saying that both groups have the backing of Saudi Arabia and are represented at the UN-sponsored peace talks.