Friday 25 May 2018

Syrian government insists ceasefire deal still possible

Syrians inspect damaged buildings after air strikes hit the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets/AP)
Syrians inspect damaged buildings after air strikes hit the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood of Aleppo (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets/AP)

Syria's foreign minister has said an internationally-brokered ceasefire is still viable, as rescue workers in Aleppo sifted through the rubble from the heaviest air strikes on rebel-held areas of the city in five years.

Walid al-Moallem said the Syrian government is prepared to take part in a unity administration incorporating elements from the opposition, an offer which has been rejected in the past.

Opposition activists say more than 200 civilians have been killed in the past week under a sustained aerial campaign which UN envoy Staffan de Mistura called one of the worst of the five-and-a-half year conflict.

The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the matter, but failed to take any action because of deep divisions between Russia and western powers.

US ambassador Samantha Power said: "What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism - it's barbarism.

"It's apocalyptic what is being done in eastern Aleppo."

Air strikes on Aleppo killed at least six people on Monday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist-run collective.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported hours later that 12 were killed, including three children.

Mr al-Moallem accused the US, UK and France of convening the Security Council meeting a day earlier in order to support "terrorists" inside Syria.

But he said ongoing communications between US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov meant a truce agreement brokered two weeks ago is "not dead".

Syria's military declared the ceasefire over one week ago.

A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said the ceasefire is ineffective, but that Moscow is not losing hope for a political solution to the country's crisis.

However, Dmitry Peskov added that the Kremlin is concerned that "terrorists are using the ceasefire regime to regroup, to replenish their arsenals and for obvious preparations to carry out attacks".

Mr Peskov also took issue with harsh criticism by the US and UK over Russia's actions in Syria.

He said Russia considers the tone of the criticism unacceptable and "such rhetoric is capable of causing serious harm to the resolution process" in Syria.

Mr Kerry said the Syrian and Russian governments "seem intent on taking Aleppo and destroying it in the process".

During a visit to Colombia, the US secretary of state said: "While they're pounding Aleppo, dropping indiscriminate bombs, killing women and children, talk of a unity government is pretty complicated."

He said the Syrian opposition "won't be particularly excited about having a negotiation when they're being bombed and starved," adding that statements by the Syrian government are "almost meaningless".

In the central Syrian city of Homs, meanwhile, a second group of rebel gunmen and their families began evacuating from an opposition area.

Some 120 gunmen and their families are expected to leave al-Waer as part of an agreement to restore the government's authority over the region, Homs governor Talal Barazi said.

The agreement struck over al-Waer was in keeping with Syrian president Bashar Assad's determination to settle the war on his own terms, securing surrenders through sieges and staying in power at least through an interim period to steer the country out of crisis.

Pro-government forces have kept al-Waer under a steadily tightening siege since November 2013, prohibiting food and medical supplies from reaching the remaining 75,000 residents, down from 300,000 before the start of the war in 2011.

In exchange for the evacuations, the government is permitting aid convoys to supply the neighbourhood with badly-needed food and medical supplies.

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy of 36 trucks delivered assistance for 4,000 families in the district on Saturday.

UN humanitarian officials have condemned the sieges against civilians as "medieval" and in contravention of international law.

In New York, Mr al-Moallem reaffirmed his government's proposed roadmap to end Syria's war, saying Damascus would support a referendum on a new constitution followed by parliamentary elections and the formation of a unity government.


Press Association

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