Russia made ‘specific’ proposal on Syria ceasefire

As calls for ceasefire continue, the U.N. warns of hunger in Homs as Syrian offensive backed by Russian strikes strands 120,000 people

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Russia has made a “quite specific” proposal for a ceasefire in Syria and is awaiting a U.S. response, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.

“We made propositions for a ceasefire that are quite specific,” he said as he sat down for talks with his US counterpart John Kerry in Munich.

“We will wait for the American response before we take it to the (International Syria Support Group).”

The U.N. says 51,000 Syrians have fled the bombardment of the city of Aleppo by government forces, backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters.

“We’re going to have a serious conversation about all aspects about what's happening in Syria. Obviously, at some point in time, we want to make progress on the issues of humanitarian access and ceasefire,” Kerry said.

Kerry and Lavrov will host foreign ministers from the 17-nation Syria contact group later Thursday, for a meeting billed as a moment of truth for the floundering peace process.

Earlier, discussions about a possible ceasefire in Syria were still ongoing and there was no unanimity on resolution of the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said on Thursday as a U.N. report warned of hunger in Homs governorate after continued Syrian offensive backed by Russian airstrikes stranded 120,000 people.

“The process is very fragile, discussions are under way, one can’t speak about unanimity in the process of a Syrian settlement,” the Kremlin’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call when asked if Russia had proposed March 1 as a date for the beginning of a ceasefire.

The United States is pushing for an immediate ceasefire in Syria, a U.S. diplomat said here Thursday as foreign ministers gathered in Munich for crisis talks on the Syrian civil war.

“The U.S. continues to push for an immediate ceasefire. We are continuing to work through various ways to achieve one as soon as possible,” the diplomat said.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande called Thursday for Russia to halt its military action in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We need to ensure that Bashar al-Assad leaves power and at the moment, helped by the Russians, he is massacring some of his own people, even if he is also taking action against a certain number of terrorists,” Hollande said, adding: “I ask that Russia’s actions stop.”

As Hollande was speaking, the main players in the Syrian conflict were meeting in Munich to attempt to persuade Russia to agree to a ceasefire.

While Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for a no fly-zone in Syria, a senior Russian diplomat in Munich said that Moscow opposes plans to establish a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border.

Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Thursday that Moscow opposes “any attempts” by the U.S.-led coalition to deploy troops in Syria’s north without asking the Syrian government or the U.N. Security Council first.

Syromolotov said Russia will consider this as an “act of direct military intervention” if it happens.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to the border with Turkey following a Syrian government offensive around the rebel-held city of Aleppo backed by Russian airstrikes.

The Russian defense ministry says its airstrikes have hit about 1,900 targets in Syria in the past week.

Meanwhile, a U.N. report said on Thursday that a military offensive by Syrian government and allied forces has cut off 120,000 people in the northern Homs governorate since mid-January, worsening hunger and killing patients unable to get to medical care.

“There are reports of increasingly acute shortages of food, basic commodities, medical items and fuel in the area. With the irregular supply routes used until mid-January now cut off, food items that are still available are now being sold at much higher prices,” said the report by the U.N. humanitarian office.

Bread prices are already 10 times higher than in the city of Homs, and unaffordable for most families.

Northern Homs governorate is mostly farming land, but the fields yield little in winter and hunger is expected to spike in the next two weeks, the report said.

Basic medical supplies are also in short supply, the report said, noting dialysis patients in rural Homs were unable to access lifesaving treatment and 14 out of 34 cancer patients in the area had reportedly died due to lack of medical care.

The last U.N. aid convoy reached rural northern Homs in October 2015. The U.N. has been trying to send additional supplies since then, but has been unable to get approval.

The two enclaves are controlled by opposition groups and lie between the cities of Homs and Hama in a pocket of land close to Syria’s north-south highway -- which links most of its main cities -- and the Mediterranean provinces that are the homeland of Assad's Alawite minority.

There are 90,000 people in one enclave around the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh and a further 30,000 in another around Houla.

The severing of the supply lines has stopped U.N. food supplies reaching the enclaves, where 12.7 percent of children and 25 percent of pregnant women are suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, much higher than the national average of 4.9 percent, the U.N. said.

The area has been targeted by airstrikes and shelling since the end of October. There has been no electricity since then, and no pumped drinking water in Rastan and Talbiseh.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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