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Russia says it will join forces with Syria, rebel groups to fight Islamic State

By Ed Adamczyk
Russia says it will join forces with Syria, rebel groups to fight Islamic State
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia, the Syrian government and opposition groups are joining forces to fight the Islamic State in Syria. File Photo by Mark Ralston/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Shifting alliances have led to plans for a unified attack on the Islamic State, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

"The Syrian government, the Russian Aerospace Forces and armed opposition groups are essentially ready to pool efforts and carry out strikes against IS positions in Syria's regions that are still under their control," Lavrov told the State Duma, Russia's parliament, on Wednesday.

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His comments came after he arrived in Moscow from Astana, Kazakhstan, where two days of talks, brokered by the United Nations, rearranged alliances and commitments to finding a peace process for Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to an outline for a Syrian cease-fire and committed the three countries to jointly fight IS and its affiliates. Syrian government representatives and diplomatic agents of rebel groups at the talks were not parties to the agreement, indicating that the fate of Syria's peace plans are in the hands of foreign countries.

The changes in the diplomatic landscape indicate the Syrian military and anti-government rebels are now on the same side, fighting to defeat IS. Russia and Iran, the foremost protectors of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and Turkey, the rebels' leading supplier of arms, also seem to be working together.

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The United States was not involved in the talks, but a State Department statement said it welcomed any "actions that sustainably de-escalate and reduce suffering in Syria." The statement insisted that any political settlement must be made under U.N. auspices and under a peace process mandated by the U.N. Security Council.

The six-year Syrian civil war has killed 500,000 people and prompted mass emigration, largely to Europe. Both the government and rebel sides are tired, out of funding and totally dependent on extra-national backers. Under the terms of the Astana agreement, Russia, Turkey and Iran will jointly enforce the cease-fire and fight IS forces remaining in Syria.

A report Monday that the United States and Russia collaborated on airstrikes against an IS target in Syria was denied by the State Department. The Russian defense ministry said it received coordinates for the airstrike on a U.S.-Russian communications channel, and that Russia undertook the strike with U.S.-led coalition forces.

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"The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.

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