Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to “coordinate” over the Syrian crisis, as Russia’s military involvement in the conflict continues to garner criticism.
The two ministers agreed on the importance of reaching a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, and “to encourage the parties to engage in dialogue in accordance with the plan put forward by the UN envoy on the basis of the decisions of the Geneva meeting”.
However, Russia’s militarily involvement in Syria has widely been interpreted as a move to bolster the beleaguered regime of Bashar Al-Assad by striking rebels backed by the United States and others.
Despite public assurances from Vladimir Putin that the target of Russian attacks are “Islamic State” targets, critics, including the US, are maintaining that moderate rebels are being struck.
Its operations have faced fresh criticisms Friday, as reports of significant civilian deaths have emerged. Human Rights Watch research suggests that at least 17 civilians in Talbiseh in northern Homs were killed by Russian airstrikes on 30 September, a town far from any military targets.
An additional 17 civilian deaths have also been reported in a neighbouring town. The prominent NGO notes that failure to take adequate care to avoid civilian deaths constitutes a breach of international law and may constitute a war crime.
“Now Syrian civilians may have to worry about Russian attacks even when they are in neighbourhoods without apparent military targets,” said HRW’s Deputy Middle East Director Nadim Houry. “Russia’s priority should be to protect civilians in Syria and take all possible precautions to avoid harming them.”
Egypt is publicly backing the Russian military intervention in Syria, which it says will curb the spread of terrorism in the war-torn country and encourage a political resolution – despite the policy being a direct challenge to the involvement of close-ally Saudi Arabia, who has been supporting rebels in the conflict.
On more than one occasion, in recent months, Egyptian officials have met with Syrian government delegations for talks, including regarding responses to ‘terrorism’.
Shoukry previously said he is in “constant contact” with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, as relations between Egypt and Russia improve. In June, the two countries held their first-ever joint naval exercise.
“Egypt, actually like most of the international states involved in Syria besides Saudi Arabia, is keen to avoid a Saddam Hussein-style collapse of the state,” says Amr Adly, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center told Daily News Egypt last Sunday. “It wants to keep a core of the Syrian state, from which it can incorporate elites in a kind of more pluralistic government.”
However, Adly acknowledged that Egypt’s attitude towards the Syrian conflict is likely to remain rhetorical, as “it cannot afford, economically or politically, to send its troops abroad to fight in conflicts that are distant from local developments”.