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A Syrian man comforts a boy amid the rubble of buildings following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on February 4, 2016. Tens of thousands of people were reported to have fled their homes in northern Syria as regime troops pressed a major Russian-backed offensive around second city Aleppo. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davotoglu warned that up to 70,000 people were headed towards his country, fleeing the offensive, which threatens to completely encircle rebels in Aleppo city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMEDTHAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images

THAER MOHAMMED/AFP / Getty Images

The Geneva negotiations to end the war in Syria have been adjourned until Feb. 25. The only two parties to these talks so far have been the rump government of Syria in Damascus and the self-styled High Negotiations Committee, a.k.a. the rebels or the opposition. So far they have only communicated through a UN envoy in "proximity talks." But while the talks seem almost hopeless, to give up on them entirely would be even worse.

Around them hover the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the remainder of post-Islamic-State Iraq. The UN and the U.S. are not mistaken in allowing at least six months for these quasi-negotiations.

The United States is a benign factor, as great powers go. But the various opponents of IS have diverging, contradictory motives.

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Turkey seems more worried about new positions of strength for the Kurds than about the Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Vladimir Putin's Russia definitely wants powerful influence in the coastal region of Syria, for the sake of its base on the Mediterranean. So, for the time being, Russia is helping the ground forces of President Bashar al-Assad with air strikes, to secure as much as it can of the major cities of Aleppo and Homs and the surrounding regions. The Russians are likewise making air strikes on the strategically important town of al-Sheikh Maskin, now held by some of the rebels represented in the HNC.

Russia is presumably aiming at a favourable ceasefire line for its client state; it doesn't really expect to secure all of non-IS Syria for Mr. Assad (or his possibly less bloody successors). Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is making blatantly contradictory statements.

The Damascus government and the HNC have been exchanging accusations of terrorism. To some extent, it's quite likely that both sets of charges are merited by these two prospective negotiating partners. But the HNC is right to have demanded a ceasefire, or some sort of stabilization of the state of affairs on the ground, before they start seriously negotiating in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the explicitly terrorist IS (or Daesh) recently conducted "martyrdom operations" in "a den of the infidels," close to a major mosque in Damascus. That should be a vivid reminder of what's at stake.

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