Sunday 25 February 2018

Russia condemns calls for Syrian president's departure as 'thoughtless'

Carnage after an air strike in Eastern Ghouta, Syria (Save the Children/PA)
Carnage after an air strike in Eastern Ghouta, Syria (Save the Children/PA)

The entire territory of Syria must be "liberated" and demands for president Bashar Assad's departure are "thoughtless", Russian officials have said.

The statement came as intense clashes were reported in northern Syria between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters with Kurdish-led forces.

The Syrian army command condemned the fresh offensive by Turkish troops inside Syria, describing it as "an occupation that will be dealt with by all available means".

The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August under orders from Ankara to clear the border area of Islamic State (IS) fighters and US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey's own outlawed Kurdish insurgency.

In the northern city of Aleppo, government forces shelled eastern rebel-held areas on Saturday night marking an apparent end to a lull announced by Russia.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said Mr Assad needs to stay in power to prevent the country from falling into the hands of jihadis.

Mr Peskov's statement came as the break in the fighting Russia has declared in the besieged city of Aleppo entered its third day before seemingly collapsing on Saturday night.

He said Russia's decision to extend the break, which was initially declared for just one day on Thursday, was not a concession to western pressure.

The UN greeted the lull intended to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters from the rebel-held eastern areas of Aleppo that had been devastated by airstrikes.

However, the rebels rejected the offer to evacuate and no evacuations were seen along the corridors created by the Syrian government.

A UN official told The Associated Press that Syrian opposition fighters were blocking the evacuations because the Syrian government and Russia were not holding up their end of the deal and were impeding deliveries of medical and humanitarian supplies into Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the truce collapsed while the Aleppo Media Centre, an activist collective, reported artillery shelling on different areas and an attempt by government forces to advance south of the city. They had no word on casualties.

Russia launched an air campaign in support of Mr Assad a year ago, helping his forces win back some ground.

Mr Peskov said the goal of the Russian campaign is to fight "terrorists," saying the fall of the Syrian government would cause new flows of refugees and more terror attacks in Europe.

"Some countries are trying to play with the devil and use terrorists to get rid of Assad, and some just say thoughtlessly that Assad must leave," Mr Peskov said.

"If Damascus falls and terrorists take hold there, there will be no political settlement then."

He said there is little hope that the Syrian conflict could end soon, adding that it will require a "long and hard work by the international community".

"It must be liberated and everything must be done to prevent the country's break-up, which could have catastrophic consequences for the entire region," Mr Peskov said.

In northern Syria, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish tanks advanced under intense bombardment toward a major northern town held by Kurdish-led rebel forces.

The Observatory said the fighting between the Turkey-backed fighters and the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces was concentrated near the town of Tel Rifaat.


Press Association

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