Saturday 17 March 2018

Russia 'must back up its ceasefire talks with action'

Civilians walk at the site of the airstrike where five-year-old Omran Daqneesh was injured, in the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria Photo: Reuters
Civilians walk at the site of the airstrike where five-year-old Omran Daqneesh was injured, in the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria Photo: Reuters

Lolita Baldor

Britain's UN ambassador says Russia must follow up its announcement of support for weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo with action to make this happen.

Matthew Rycroft told reporters at UN headquarters in New York yesterday that Russia's new position "certainly sounds better than their old position, but the people of Syria have heard a lot of Russian commitments, not all of which have been implemented".

Regime: Bashar Assad
Regime: Bashar Assad

He expressed hope that aid will get to Aleppo and other areas but "what matters is Russian action, not Russian words".

Rycroft also expressed concern that Russia and Iran, members of an international group trying to end the Syrian war, "are deliberately prolonging this conflict rather than doing everything they can to end it and get the political transition that is so desperately needed".

The Russian military said yesterday that two of its ships had launched cruise missiles at targets in Syria from the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The ministry said the missiles destroyed a command facility and a militant camp near the militant-held town of Daret Azzeh, along with a mine-making facility and a weapons facility in the province of Aleppo.

Russian warships in the past have launched cruise missiles at targets in Syria from both the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean, a show of the navy's long-range precision strike capability.

The cruise missile strikes have added an extra punch to the aerial campaign Russia has conducted since September in support of President Bashar Assad's military.

The development comes after Russia this week began using Iranian territory to launch airstrikes in Syria, with Moscow's bombers flying out of the Islamic Republic for three straight days to hit targets in the war-ravaged country.

Residents of the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh took advantage of a lull in the fighting between Kurdish forces and Syrian government troops yesterday to flee to safer areas nearby, after fighting intensified on Thursday, with government warplanes bombing Kurdish-controlled positions in the city for the first time.

Shortly afterward, clashes broke out anew, a Kurdish official said. An activist group said Syrian government warplanes launched new air raids on areas controlled by Kurdish fighters yesterday. The fighting between the Kurdish troops and government forces could add a new dimension to the country's deadly war, now in its sixth year, by potentially opening a new front in Syria.

The area around Hassakeh had witnessed battles between the two sides in the past but this week's violence has been among the worst since Kurdish fighters took control of wide, predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Syria in 2012.

The main Kurdish force in Syria, known as the People's Protection Unit, or YPG, has been the main US-backed force in Syria and the most effective force in fighting the Islamic State group.

Last week, the Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition led by the YPG, captured the former Isil stronghold of Manbij in northern Syria under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that tracks the conflict, said the fighting first began on Wednesday. So far, 16 people, including six women and children, have been killed on the Kurdish side. Five pro-government gunmen of the National Defence Force were killed as well, the Observatory said.

Jwan Mohammed, a former Kurdish official, said there was intense fighting overnight. A relative calm yesterday morning prompted scores to flee, mostly to nearby towns of Qamishli and Amouda. Speaking from Qamishli, he said that there were calls through mosque loudspeakers for the evacuation of civilians stuck in the areas of fighting.

The Observatory also reported residents were fleeing the city and that clashes picked up in the afternoon again. The Beirut-based pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying the clashes broke out anew after YPG fighters attacked military positions in the city.

YPG spokesman Redur Khalil denounced Thursday's government air raids on Hassakeh as an act of "suicide," adding that Assad's forces would be held accountable for the "brutal, blatant attacks against our people."

Irish Independent

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