April 27, 2016 / 6:06 PM / 3 years ago

Russia proposes U.N. blacklist two Syrian opposition groups

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia has proposed that the United Nations Security Council blacklist Syrian rebel groups Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham for links to Islamic State and al Qaeda militants, though Washington warned such a move undermine the push for a truce.

Men inspect a hole in the ground after an airstrike on a Civil Defence station in the rebel held town of Atareb, Aleppo countryside, Syria April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

If none of the council’s 15-member Islamic State and al Qaeda sanctions committee blocks or puts a hold on the listing by 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) on May 11 then the groups will be added to the U.N. sanctions list, said diplomats.

“The reason for such a move was the information that these groups, which are waging a war in Syria, are closely connected to terrorist organizations, first of all with ISIS (Islamic State) and al Qaeda,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in a statement on Tuesday.

Washington’s mission to the United Nations cautioned against blacklisting the two groups, saying it would undermine attempts to get a sustained halt in the fighting in Syria.

“Designating Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham – two groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities – would have damaging consequences to the cessation (of hostilities) just as we are trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground,” Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the U.S. mission, said.

A senior Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the Russian move as “unhelpful.”

“It’s a way of trying to divide the opposition,” the diplomat said on Wednesday.

Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army) is a major armed rebel group in Syria and part of the High Negotiation Committee, which was set up in Riyadh last December to negotiate on behalf of opposition groups at U.N.-brokered peace talks with the government.

The High Negotiation Committee is backed by Western nations and key Arab states.

Ahrar al-Sham withdrew from the Riyadh meeting, saying “revolutionary groups” were sidelined. But the group did attend the latest round of peace talks in Geneva.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has long said that Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham should not be involved in Syria peace talks.

Ahrar al-Sham is an ultra-orthodox Salafist group and has fought as part of a military alliance including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which was not part of a cessation of hostilities agreement brokered in February.

Ahrar al-Sham, whose late leader fought alongside Osama bin Laden, last year denied sharing al Qaeda’s ideology or having organizational ties to the group.

Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Tom Brown

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