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Jordan to hold talks with Russia over south Syria deal

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan will hold talks with Russia this week over a ceasefire in southwestern Syria that would pave the way for a peace deal which would allow tens of thousands of refugees to return home, the Jordanian foreign minister said on Monday.

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Ayman Safadi, speaking in Amman, said he would travel on Tuesday to Moscow where he would hold formal talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday.

The Russian-backed Syrian government has mounted a campaign to recover southwestern Syria from rebels.

At least 270,000 people have been displaced, the United Nations said on Monday, a sharp rise from 160,000 a few days earlier, with most of them going to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

“I look forward to a frank discussion to discuss how to arrive at a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Safadi said, adding that Russia was a main party to any solution.

“There are speedy developments on the ground and the meeting hopefully will result in more understandings and steps forward containing the crisis and prevent more devastation,” Safadi said.

The talks with Lavrov would focus on how to create “conditions on the ground under which people will feel safe” to return to their towns and villages, he said.

Jordan, which hosts about 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations, is increasingly worried about a prolonged military campaign that could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe. It has said it will not open its borders for more to cross. Israel has also said its frontiers will remain shut.

Thousands of Syrians fleeing from towns and villages overrun by the army have already descended further south and taken shelter close to Jordan’s border crossing with Syria where the army has in the last few days begun sending aid.

Safadi said there was no shortage of supplies of humanitarian aid now stockpiled along the Jordanian border but it was up to the UN to get the necessary approvals from Damascus to allow in supplies inside Deraa province.

“There are tens of trailers that are on the Jordanian border so the issue is not about the abundance of humanitarian aid, it’s about finding the right conditions across the border to send the aid. Jordan will continue to be a gateway for aid,” Safadi added.

Public pressure is piling on Jordan to ease restrictions on entry of refugees where some have criticised the kingdom’s stance towards Syrians, many of whom have close kinship with Jordanians on the border.

“We believe that it is in nobody’s interest to have Syrians depart their country,” Safadi said.

Jordan, which had supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups along with other Western and Arab backers, has been facilitating talks between them and the Russians over a deal that would end the fighting and restore state sovereignty.

Opposition negotiators had held meetings with Russia to try to agree a deal for all of Deraa province and want the Russian military police to play a role in peace-keeping.

They want Jordan to act as a guarantor to any deal, a role it was ready to undertake, diplomats say.

Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence