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France presses Russia over Syria as more die in besieged rebel area

February 10, 2018 at 11:28 am

Body of a child is freed from the wreckage by civil defense members and civilians after an airstrike to the de-escalation zone of Khan al-Sabil village in Idlib, Syria on January 02, 2018 [Muaz Yemen / Anadolu Agency]

France urged Russia to make Syria’s government ease a dire humanitarian crisis in two rebel-held areas as more air strikes pounded them on Friday, adding to the death toll from one of the deadliest weeks of the war.

President Bashar al-Assad’s army, which has seized a clear advantage in the war with Russian and Iranian help, is bombarding two of the last key rebel areas of Syria – Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and Idlib in the northwest near the Turkish border.

The latest air strikes killed more than 12 people in Eastern Ghouta, a pocket of towns and farmland east of Damascus where the death toll has climbed to more than 230 in the last four days – the enclave’s deadliest week since 2015, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Warplanes killed another 14 people in Idlib, the monitoring group said.

The multi-sided conflict is raging on other fronts too, with Turkey waging a big offensive against Kurdish forces in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria. Turkey resumed its air strikes against Afrin overnight.

Diplomacy is making no progress towards ending a war now approaching its eighth year, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes, with millions forced out as refugees.

In a telephone call, French President Emmanuel Macron pressed Russia’s Vladimir Putin to do all he could to ensure Damascus puts an end to the humanitarian emergency in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Read: Syria regime asks Russia to protect eastern Damascus

Macron also told Putin it was imperative that peace talks made progress and voiced his concern at signs that chlorine bombs have been used against civilians recently. Damascus has consistently denied using chemical weapons.

The Kremlin said Putin and Macron discussed the Syrian peace process in the phone call.

The United Nations has been sounding the alarm about the escalating level of violence, and called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.

But Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, said on Thursday a ceasefire was unrealistic and that militants were to blame for the bloodshed.

France: Turkey, Iran violating international law in Syria