.

john kerry munich.jpg
Photograph: EPA/SVEN HOPPE

Russia must stop targeting Syria's legitimate opposition as part of an air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad before a truce can be implemented next week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

"To date, the vast majority of Russia's attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups," Kerry said at the Munich Security Conference. "To adhere to the agreement it made, Russia's targeting must change."

"The entire International Syria Support Group, including Russia, will work together to ensure that happens," Kerry said, referring to more than a dozen countries that agreed early Friday to implement a truce in one week's time.

The agreement, whose signatories include regional rival powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, foresees a "pause" in fighting while details of a more permanent ceasefire are negotiated. It will not include the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front extremist militias.

Russia has insisted it is only targeting "terrorists" as part of its campaign.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who attended the Munich conference in place of President Vladimir Putin, said that there was no evidence Russia was bombing civilians in Syria. The accusation had been earlier levelled by his French counterpart, Manuel Valls.

Supported by Russian airstrikes, Assad's forces are trying to encircle the strategic city of Aleppo – a stronghold for the Syrian opposition - and cut off their supply route from Turkey.

The Russian campaign seemed to be intensifying on Saturday, with a monitoring group reporting airstrikes against a rebel-held area in the town of Tel Rifaat in northern Aleppo.

"The intensity of the raids has increased in the past 24 hours," said Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Tel Rifaat, around 20 kilometres from the Turkish border, is one of the last rebel strongholds north of Aleppo. Al-Assad's forces are just three kilometres away, according to Abdel-Rahman.

"This intensity sets the scene for a ground advance [by Syrian troops] towards Tel Rifaat and Azaz," two rebel-held areas on the northern edge of Aleppo, he said.

Also on Saturday, local media reported that Saudi Arabia will deploy war planes to the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, used by the United States and allied powers to launch attacks against Islamic State.

The exact size of any potential Saudi deployment had yet to be determined, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Yeni Safak and other outlets on his plane back from Munich, adding that Turkey and Saudi Arabia could launch a ground operation.

On Friday, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter told reporters that the UAE was ready to "restart their participation in the air campaign" against Islamic State and stressed the key role of both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

He implied special forces from the Gulf would help "local forces" in Syria to retake al-Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in the north. The US has so far largely allied with Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria to push back Islamic State militants.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the airstrikes, creating a humanitarian crisis on the Turkish border, which remains closed to the refugees.

Al-Assad this week said he sees a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both staunch opponents of his rule, would intervene militarily in Syria.

Latest news

Croatian MEP says Moscow wants to influence in western Balkans

Croatian MEP Ivan Jakovcic said in an interview with the Montenegrin Pobjeda daily on Thursday that Moscow is trying to exploit the political forces in Montenegro and that Russia's meddling in Montenegro's internal affairs was "unacceptable behaviour."

New York Times launches brand campaign for "The Truth" with Oscars ad

The New York Times is using Sunday's Academy Awards show to launch an advertising drive with an ad spot that capitalizes on President Donald Trump's confrontational relationship with the paper and other mainstream media.

Gambia charges former spy chief with murder of opposition leader

The former head of the Gambian national intelligence agency has been charged with the murder of an opposition youth leader who died in detention last year.

Dutch populist Wilders won't publicly campaign after security fiasco

The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) won't make public appearances in support of its election campaign after a security official assigned to protect party founder Geert Wilders was detained by police.

Peace Implementation Council Steering Board calls for defusing tensions in Bosnia

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) met on Thursday, expressing the international community's concern about the situation in the country and calling on local politicians to act rationally to prevent an escalation of the crisis after a motion was submitted to review an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in BiH's case against Serbia for genocide.

Trump blasts Mexico as top diplomat holds talks in Mexico City

US President Donald Trump expressed ambivalence about the US relationship with Mexico as he blasted the country Thursday for what he claims is an unfair trade relationship.

Croat accused of rioting at UEFA 2016 game goes on trial

The trial of Ivan Vucenovic, 21, accused of causing rioting during a European soccer championship match between Croatia and the Czech Republic in Saint Etienne, France last June, began at the Sibenik Municipal Court on Thursday.

Schools blocked, 26 arrests in Paris protests against police abuses

Hundreds of young people took to the streets of Paris on Thursday in protests against alleged police brutality, with local media reporting that 16 secondary schools were forced to shut.

Aid agency: 13 dead among dozens trapped in Libya container

The bodies of 13 migrants were found along with dozens of survivors trapped inside a transport container in Libya's western town of Khoms, an aid agency said Thursday.

Strike grounds hundreds of Alitalia flights

Employees of loss-making Italian airline Alitalia walked off the job Thursday after government-mediated talks failed to break the deadlock, causing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.

Bosnia requests review of ICJ judgement that exonerating Serbia

Bosnia and Herzegovina's legal counsel Sakib Softic on Thursday submitted a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, for a review of a judgement in the genocide suit against Serbia.

Frljic: Warsaw play big hit, ascribes criticism to conservative repression

The media have reported that Polish prosecutors on Wednesday began investigating Frljic's play, which the Catholic Church and the conservative community in Poland have called "blasphemous".