In Multipolarity, May 3, 2016

Terrorist rockets strike maternity hospital in Aleppo

A cessation of hostilities in the Syrian city of Aleppo will be announced in the coming hours, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday after talks in Moscow with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Breaking news: UN Security Council debates and approves resolution condemning military attacks on hospitals, The Independent, May 3, 2016

‘While the Aleppo attack helped spur the resolution’s passage, speakers in the chamber noted not only that the numbers of strikes against medical targets have been rising for some time but it is a phenomenon that is seen in places beyond Syria and Afghanistan but also in Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic amongst other conflict areas.’

See further below: Moscow hopes for truce ‘within hours’ as fighting rocks Aleppo, AFP News, May 3, 2016

Lavrov added that the US and Russian militaries are currently holding talks on the Aleppo ceasefire. “I hope that in the coming hours such an agreement will be announced,” the minister said after the meeting in Moscow.

UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speak to journalists in Moscow on May 2, 2016 (Twitter)

UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speak to journalists in Moscow on May 2, 2016 (Twitter)

According to UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, the stalled Syria peace talks could be resumed if an Aleppo ceasefire is agreed. He added that there is now a possibility to relaunch the ceasefire by extending local truces.

“I have a feeling and a hope that we can relaunch this,” De Mistura said. “We all hope that … in a few hours we can relaunch the cessation of hostilities. If we can do this, we will be back on the right track.”

Destroyed buildings on May 2, 2016 in Aleppo's Bab al-Hadid neighbourhood, targeted recently by Syrian gov't air strikes (Karam Al-Masri, AFP)Lavrov also announced the creation of a new Russian-US monitoring center in Geneva, Switzerland, which will oversee ceasefire violations in Syria. “We are grateful to the UN for its help in solving logistical issues on the creation of this center in Geneva where the militaries of the two countries will discuss face-to-face specific developments on the ground,” he said.

Moscow is also urging Washington to distinguish between extremists and the Syrian opposition, Lavrov added. “To make the ceasefire work and make it inclusive, our partners must do everything possible to remove the moderate opposition, which relies on foreign support, from the positions occupied by the terrorists.”

Territorial control in Syria, May 2016Lavrov also called for an extended ceasefire in Syria. “Of course, there are separate groups who would like to undermine the cessation of hostilities, to provoke an escalation [of the crisis]. We can’t let them do it,” he said.

Lavrov also warned against any calls for a ground operation in Syria. “Russia is concerned, and not just us alone, about Turkey’s shelling of the Syrian territory, continued creation of certain security zones in Syria, not to mention the increasing calls for a ground operation.”

Map of Syria in New York Review of Books, colored areas along border with Turkey are controlled by Syrian Kurds

Map of Syria in New York Review of Books, colored areas along border with Turkey are controlled by Syrian Kurds

Moscow is convinced “that such calls come from those who are not interested in the real political settlement [of Syrian crisis] and who rely on a military solution.”

“We are convinced that this is the way to a catastrophic situation, and such appeals should be stopped,” Lavrov said.

In April, the Geneva peace talks were gridlocked after the Saudi-backed Syrian opposition withdrew from the negotiations, citing the deteriorating situation in Aleppo.

Acknowledging the increasingly shaky state of the ceasefire in Syria, de Mistura then expressed hope that Russia and the US could breathe new impetus into the process, halting the fighting on the ground and solidifying the political transition process.

On Monday, the Free Syrian Army refused to recognize partial ceasefires or local lulls in violence, claiming that if the UN-backed truce was not implemented in full, the group would reserve its right to withdraw from the Geneva talks and ­respond to any attacks.

Moscow hopes for truce ‘within hours’ as fighting rocks Aleppo

AFP, Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Russia said Tuesday it hoped a new ceasefire could be announced within hours for Syria’s battered city of Aleppo, where fresh fighting has left at least 16 dead, including in rocket fire on a maternity hospital.

As the city was struck by some of its heaviest reported clashes in recent days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said efforts were underway to agree a freeze in the fighting. “I am hoping that in the near future, maybe even in the next few hours, such a decision will be announced,” Lavrov told reporters after talks with the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura in Moscow.

World powers have been making a concerted push this week to stop the fighting in Aleppo and salvage a landmark ceasefire agreed in late February. The truce between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and non-jihadist rebel forces raised hopes for efforts to finally resolve Syria’s five-year conflict. But it has all but collapsed amid renewed fighting, especially in Aleppo.

A surge of violence that erupted on April 22 has left more than 270 people dead in the divided northern city and undermined efforts to revive peace negotiations. After a relative lull in clashes on Monday and early Tuesday, rebels in eastern Aleppo fired a barrage of at least 65 rockets into government-controlled neighbourhoods, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

At least three women were killed when the rockets crashed into a maternity hospital, the agency and state television said, and another 11 killed in fire on other government-held neighbourhoods.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in the UK, said it had counted at least 19 dead and 80 wounded from the attacks on government neighbourhoods. An AFP correspondent in the city saw the heavily damaged hospital building towering over the charred remains of a parked car.

Fierce fighting was also raging on the city’s western edges after rebel groups detonated explosives in an underground tunnel, the correspondent said. He described it as the most violent day for the city’s regime-held west since clashes resumed 11 days ago.

Fresh regime air strikes also hit rebel-held eastern areas in the afternoon, another AFP correspondent reported. Rescue workers in the area said at least two people were killed in the strikes.

In Moscow after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva on Monday, De Mistura said it was crucial for the ceasefire to be “brought back on track”, hailing the February truce agreement as a “remarkable achievement”.

Diplomatic efforts were set to continue with De Mistura joining the foreign ministers of Germany and France for talks with Syria’s main opposition leader in Berlin on Wednesday.

Discussions will focus on “how the conditions for a continuation of the peace talks in Geneva can be met, as well as how a reduction of violence and an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Syria can be achieved”, the German foreign ministry said in a statement.

On Monday Kerry said the situation in Syria was “in many ways out of control and deeply disturbing.”

Washington and Moscow are working together to include Aleppo province in a so-called “regime of silence” — a freeze in fighting. The freeze is meant to bolster the broader February 27 truce also brokered by the two world powers.

The two countries have agreed to boost the number of Geneva-based truce monitors to track violations “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kerry told reporters. “We’re trying to press this as fast as possible but I don’t want to make any promises that can’t be kept,” Kerry told reporters after meeting de Mistura and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir — whose government has influence with key rebel groups.

In a nod to Moscow’s demands, Kerry said Washington would press moderate rebels to separate themselves from Al-Nusra Front’s jihadists in Aleppo.

Russia and Assad’s regime have used the presence of Al-Nusra, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda which was not party to the February ceasefire deal, as an excuse to press their offensive. More than 270 civilians — including at least 49 children — have been killed on both sides of divided Aleppo since April 22.

Aleppo city was initially left out of a new deal announced last week to “freeze” fighting along two major fronts in Syria’s northwest and in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 after anti-government protests were put down, escalating into a multi-faceted war that has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Read also:
On the ground in Aleppo: Bloodshed, misery and hope, by Declan Walsh, New York Times, April 30, 2016

The media are misleading the public on Syria, by Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, Feb 18, 2016


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