WaPo: Russia Calls Off Attacks Against Syria’s al-Qaeda Franchise

Russian servicemen assist air force pilots in a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter jet before departure on a mission at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015.

The Washington Post reports: BEIRUT — In an unusual announcement Wednesday, Russia said it would halt air raids against Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, to give other rebel factions a chance to distance themselves from the extremist group.

The move comes less than a week after Moscow proposed conducting joint airstrikes in Syria with a U.S.-led coalition that is attacking the Islamic State militant group there. U.S. officials have rejected that idea, even as coordination with Russia over a partial truce in the country apparently has increased.

Russian news agencies carried a vague statement attributed to Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, declaring that unidentified Syrian opposition groups had asked Moscow to suspend attacks.

It said the rebel factions, including in Damascus and Aleppo, agreed to stop “provocative” shelling of government targets. In return, the statement said, Russia would suspend airstrikes for an unspecified period to allow the groups to “separate” from Jabhat al-Nusra.