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Russia warns of 'permanent war' in Syria

Russia's prime minister has warned of a "permanent war" starting in Syria if foreign troops are sent into the civil war-torn country despite the prospective ceasefire agreement secured last night.

"All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table, instead of unleashing yet another war on Earth," Dmitry Medvedev told Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview widely reported on Friday.

"Any kinds of land operations, as a rule, lead to a permanent war. Look at what's happened in Afghanistan and a number of other countries. I am not even going to bring up poor Libya."

The comments were seen as a reaction against Saudi Arabia, which had signaled this week that it was ready to send ground troops into Syria where a civil war is now in its fifth year between the government, anti-government rebel groups and the militant Jihadist group that calls itself Islamic State (IS).

Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia, steps downstairs from the Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft at Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport on December 14, 2015 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China.
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Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia, steps downstairs from the Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft at Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport on December 14, 2015 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China.

The war has also created a power struggle outside of Syria, with Russia supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad although it says it is helping the international alliance fighting IS. Russia's Prime Minister Medvedev said the U.S. and its Arab partners should reconsider any kind of land operations.

"The Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war? Do they think they can really quickly win it? It is impossible, especially in the Arab world. Everyone is fighting against everyone there," Medvedev added in the newspaper interview.

The comments came on the eve of a summit of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Munich on Thursday where major powers aimed at coming to an agreement on a cessation of hostilities.

Early on Friday morning, a communique was released in which the group – which includes the Arab League, EU, U.S., Russia and United Nations among others, said that a ceasefire would start in one week although the fight against militant groups like IS and al-Nusra would continue. There was also no agreement to end Russian airstrikes, which have been accused of widely targeting rebel groups attacking Assad's forces, rather than focusing on IS.

The group stressed the importance of enabling humanitarian aid across Syria too to help thousands of civilians caught in the fighting.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the end of the conflict in Syria would only come with when the parties involved agreed "on a plan for a political transition…And we have no illusions about how difficult that is."

"No one here is following some pipe dream in this effort. People fully understand that compromise will be necessary, that it will be essential to resolve very tough issues that are outstanding. But without a political transition it is not possible to achieve peace," he said.

The ceasefire does not exclude the possibility of foreign ground troops in Syria to help fight IS. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday that he expected Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to provide special operations forces to help Syrian opposition fighters battling IS, including in key IS stronghold Raqqa, Reuters reported.

"We're going to try to give opportunities and power to ... particularly Sunni Arabs in Syria who want to re-seize their territory back from ISIL, especially Raqqa," Carter said after defense talks in Brussels.

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