A Syrian Army source said the city of Aleppo would soon be encircled by government forces as rebels pounded by Russian air strikes expressed hope that the failure of Geneva peace talks would encourage their foreign backers to send better weapons.
Turkey, a major sponsor of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad, said there was no point to peace talks while Russia carried out attacks in Syria. Moscow confirmed a Russian military trainer was killed in Syria this week, but denied that Russian servicemen were fighting on the ground.
The United Nations on Wednesday suspended the first peace talks in two years, halting an effort that seemed doomed from the start as the war raged unabated on the ground and government forces severed a major rebel supply route into strategically-important Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the war began.
Turkey said on Thursday that tens of thousands of refugees from Aleppo were moving towards the border due to air strikes.
Four months of Russian air strikes have tipped the momentum Assad’s way after rebel advances earlier in 2015 that posed a growing threat to his control of crucial areas of western Syria.
With the help of Russian air power and allies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian fighters on the ground, the overstretched Syrian army is regaining ground on key fronts in the west, where Syria’s most important cities are located.
But vast swathes of the country are in the hands of armed rebels, including a mosaic of groups in the west, Islamic State in the east, and Kurdish militia in the north.
The refugee crisis created by the five-year-long war moved back into focus as donors convened in London on Thursday, with U.N. agencies seeking billions in aid to help the victims of a conflict that has forced millions from their homes.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the first steps in peace talks were undermined by increased aerial bombing. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura announced a three-week pause.
“I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the organisation did not want to be associated with the Russian escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely,” a U.N. official told Reuters.
Washington and Moscow’s support for opposite sides in the five-year-old war, which has drawn in regional states, created millions of refugees and enabled the rise of Islamic State, means a local conflict has become a fraught global stand-off.
Moscow accuses Washington, which is backing opponents of Assad, of supporting terrorists, while the U.S. State Department said the air strikes around Aleppo focused mainly on Assad’s foes rather than the Islamic State militants Russia says it is trying to defeat.