Russian request to add two Syrian militant groups to a United Nations terror blacklist was rejected by Britain, France, the United States, and Ukraine, diplomats said on May 10.
Russia had requested that Jaish Al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ahrar Al-Sham be added to the sanctions list because of their ties to Al-Qaeda and the ISIL Takfiri groups that already have been blacklisted.
Adding names to the UN sanctions list requires a consensus decision by the 15-member UN Security Council, however, and objections were raised by the United States and three other current council members.
A spokesperson for the US mission to the UN told AFP that the designation would have had “damaging consequences” for the cessation of hostilities that the United States and Russia are trying to piece together in Syria, since Jaish Al-Islam had agreed to participate in the cease-fire.
“Now is not the time to shift course, but rather double-down on our efforts toward a reduction in violence,” the U.S. spokesperson said.
A Security Council diplomat told AFP that blacklisting the two groups would be “seriously counterproductive, damaging both efforts to maintain the cessation of hostilities and resume peace negotiations in Geneva.”
He argued that isolating the groups from the mainstream opposition would result in a more hard-line stance and drive them away from the search for a political settlement of Syria’s five-year civil war.
Jaish Al-Islam is a member of the coalition of opposition groups known as the Higher Negotiations Committee that is participating in Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva.
Ahrar Al-Sham is among the most powerful extremist groups in Syria, but it did not join the opposition coalition and it has known ties to the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s blacklisted Syrian affiliate.
Moscow did not comment directly on the rejection of its bid at the UN on May 10, but it warned that Russia still considers any opposition group that collaborates with the Al-Nusra Front to be a fair target for Russian and Syrian forces.
“Those forces of the Syrian opposition that demonstrate a sober approach, that stand for Syria’s territorial integrity, and are ready to take part in the political process in the interests of the nation must completely dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
She added that the United States should “exert pressure” on such opposition groups to ensure they do not associate with terrorist organizations that have been excluded from the cease-fire and peace negotiations, otherwise they are in danger of being fired upon.