Russia: Peace in Syria postponed ‘indefinitely’

A rebel fighter in Dahiyet al-Assad fires a shell towards regime-held Hamdaniyah neighbourhood, west Aleppo city. (Reuters)

As the United Nations warned on Tuesday that all sides may be committing war crimes in Aleppo, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday accused the US-led coalition in Syria of failing to rein in hardline rebels, making the chance of a political settlement remote.

He said the coalition was “putting spokes in the wheel” of Russia’s military operation in the country and failing to “act in unison.”

“As a result, the prospect of the start of a political settlement and a return of the Syrian people to peaceful life has been postponed indefinitely,” he said at a televised meeting with top brass.

He said rebels were shooting “dozens of peaceful civilians” every day for attempting to use humanitarian corridors set up by Russia out of rebel-held eastern Aleppo, which so far have seen only a trickle of people leave.

“Is that really opposition you can come to an agreement with?” he said.

minaret

minaret

Moscow has been conducting a bombing campaign in Syria in support of long-time ally Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.

Russia has now ceased air strikes on eastern Aleppo for 16 days, Shoigu said, after criticism over a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure including hospitals.

Defiantly hitting back at Western opposition to Russian warships using European ports en route to Syria, Shoigu called on Western countries to “decide who they are really fighting: terrorists or Russia.”

Russia’s battle group led by nuclear-powered Pyotr Veliky battle cruiser has now entered the Mediterranean, Shoigu said.

“Our ships’ voyage caused a sensation among our Western partners,” Shoigu said, adding that Russia was “particularly amazed by the position of certain countries which under pressure from the US and NATO publicly announced a refusal for our warships to enter their ports.”

Russia last week scrapped plans to refuel Syria-bound warships in a Spanish port after Madrid came under pressure to refuse access to a flotilla that may be used to help attacks on Aleppo.

Shoigu insisted this did not affect the ships’ schedule “since they are equipped with all the necessary resources.”

He said Russia’s Hmeimim military base in Syria and its Tartus naval facility also receive regular supplies.

Kremlin accuses Aleppo rebel attacks

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said on Tuesday Russia will not be able to prolong a moratorium on air strikes against targets in Syria’s Aleppo if rebels in the city continue their attacks on the ground.

“At the moment the pause is continuing, the exit of the civilian population from eastern Aleppo is being enabled, conditions are being created for humanitarian aid,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

“But all that is impossible if the terrorists continue to fire on neighborhoods, humanitarian aid routes, launch attacks, and continue to hide behind a (human) shield. That will not permit the continuation of the humanitarian pause.”

All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities that are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city

UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani

UN on war crimes in Aleppo

Meanwhile, UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a regular UN briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that all sides fighting over the Syrian city of Aleppo may be committing war crimes through indiscriminate attacks incivilian areas.

Last week insurgents launched an offensive against government-held western Aleppo, more than a month into an operation by the army to retake the city’s rebel-held eastern districts, which it had already put under siege.

The UN estimates 250,000-275,000 civilians are trapped and 8,000 rebel fighters holed up in the eastern part.

“All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities that are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city,” Shamdasani said.

Over the weekend, the UN documented the deaths of more than 30 civilians, including 10 children, as well as dozens of injuries, resulting from strikes by mortars, rockets and other improvised explosive devices on western Aleppo, she said.

“The reported use of ground based missiles, along with the use of armed vehicles loaded with explosives, used in an area containing more than 1 million civilian inhabitants, is completely unacceptable and may constitute a war crime,” Shamdasani said.

The high number of civilian casualties suggested the rebels were ignoring the “fundamental prohibition” on indiscriminate attacks and the principles of precaution and proportionality, she added.

The UN did not have detailed enough information to attribute the attacks to specific groups, she said.

Government forces and their allies were also continuing to shell opposition-held eastern Aleppo, and the UN had documented at least 12 civilian casualties, including two children, on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

“Strikes against hospitals, schools, market places, water facilities and bakeries are now commonplace and if proven to be intentional may amount to war crimes.”

(With AFP, Reuters)

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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