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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ‘agree on Syria,’ brush off election meddling

In a joint statement on Syria, the US president and his Russian counterpart have agreed to fight IS extremists together. At a regional summit, the two leaders also denied claims of Moscow interference in the US election. US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin assured him that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 US election during their discussions on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang, Vietnam. "Every time he sees me, he said: 'I didn't do that.' And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. "He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times," Trump said. He also noted that Putin is "very insulted" by the accusation. Putin also swatted away accusations of election meddling as a US "domestic political struggle", in comments to reporters. "I think these are some sort of fantasies," he said of claims of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Read more: Why is the United States interested in the 'Indo-Pacific'? Informal talks Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting at the APEC summit, but the two leaders met unofficially several times since late Friday and have even posed for a side-by-side photo. Such a meeting would take place against a fraught background, with some of Trump's key aides under investigation for alleged collaboration with Moscow ahead of the president's win in 2016 elections. US officials may well be anxious to avoid any encounter between the two men that could be seen to reinforce the notion that they are in cahoots in any way. Both the White House and the Kremlin have denied any wrongdoing. Read more: APEC summit: Free trade in Asia in the age of protectionism Democrats creating 'artificial barrier' Trump's also accused US Democrats of standing in the way of a "good relationship" with Russia by accusing Moscow of meddling in the elections. He said Russia's help would be beneficial in "solving" problems with North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, adding that "people will die" because of the Democratic "hit job." Although no top-level formal Moscow-Washington encounter took place in Vietnam, the summit saw a brief meeting between Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Rex Tillerson. Lavrov, when asked to give the details of their talks, said only: "I can but I wouldn't." Agreement on Syria Trump and Putin did issue a statement on Saturday in which they agreed to continue joint efforts to fight the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria until it is completely defeated. The joint statement, published on the Kremlin's website, said that the two leaders also confirmed their commitment to Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and called on all warring parties to participate actively in the UN-sponsored peace process in Geneva. According to the text of the statement, Moscow and Washington also agreed that there was no military solution to the conflict, which began in 2011 with peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has since grown into a multiparty war involving combatants ranging from government forces and "moderate" rebels to Islamist extremists such as IS. Opposing views Russia and the United States have taken different sides in the conflict, with Moscow giving military support to troops of its longtime ally Assad, while Washington until this year backed rebels it considered legitimate in their fight against the Syrian regime. Reports in July 2017 said Trump had ended the clandestine CIA program of support for such rebels. Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria since 2015, when it stepped in to support Assad's rule, tipping the conflict very much in his favor.

In a joint statement on Syria, the US president and his Russian counterpart have agreed to fight IS extremists together. At a regional summit, the two leaders also denied claims of Moscow interference in the US election. US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin assured him that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 ... Read More »

Rex Tillerson reaffirms US commitment to Syrian peace, rules out Assad in future government

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed a commitment to reviving the Geneva peace process. He added that Washington sees no future for President Bashar Assad in Syria's government. Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that the reign of the Assad family was "coming to an end" after what he called a "fruitful" discussion with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who later addressed the UN Security Council by videoconference. "The US wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar Assad in the government," Tillerson said. "The only issue is how that should be brought about." But Assad's exit was not a "prerequisite" for the talks to start, Tillerson said. Staffan de Mistura is expected to reconvene UN-mediated intra-Syrian talks on November 28. This after gains on the battlefield by Assad's Russian-backed forces. These will be the eighth round of talks under his guidance since early 2016. Opposition delegations - which do not include the so-called "Islamic State" ("IS") or other UN-designated terrorist groups - have never spoken directly with Syrian government envoys under de Mistura's mediation. No triumph for Tehran Tillerson also said the Syrian government's advances did not amount to a "triumph" for Iran, a key backer of Assad. "I see Iran as a hanger-on," Tillerson said. "Iran has not been successful; the Russian government has been more successful. We have had success. I don't think that Iran should be given credit for the defeat of IS in Syria.” Russia-backed Syrian government forces as well as US-backed, Kurdish-led troops have recently led to a significant reduction in territory controlled by IS across Syria. The US-backed forces recently ousted IS from its capital, Raqqa.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed a commitment to reviving the Geneva peace process. He added that Washington sees no future for President Bashar Assad in Syria’s government. Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that the reign of the Assad family was “coming to an end” after what he called a “fruitful” discussion with UN Syria envoy Staffan de ... Read More »

Syrian army advances in Aleppo displace thousands

Civilians have fled eastern Aleppo as government forces continue their assault on Syria's second city. In the past 13 days, regime bombardments have killed more than 200 civilians - including at least 25 children. Rebel defenses collapsed and troops marched deep into eastern Aleppo as a government assault continuedSunday. The regime's push came after intense bombardment with airstrikes, shells and barrel bombs. "The army's rapid advance is due to its strategy of attacking east Aleppo on several fronts, weakening the rebels," said Rami Abdurrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to the opposition-aligned NGO, over the past day nearly 1,700 civilians have fled to government-held parts of western Aleppo and another 2,500 to the Kurdish-controlled northern district of Sheikh Maksoud. Dozens of families have fled the districts of Sakhur and Haidariya as regime raids and artillery fire killed at least 18 civilians in several districts, the Observatory reported. Government assaults have killed more than 200 civilians in eastern Aleppo since November 15. "We are strengthening our positions to defend the city and residents, but the aircraft are destroying everything methodically, area by area," said Yasser al-Youssef, of the rebel group Nour el-Din el-Zinki. "The planes have destroyed everything - stones, trees and people - in a systematic policy of destruction." Rising death toll State media broadcast images of civilians gathering around buses to evacuate a rebel-held district. Food has become scarce in the area, and the aid group Doctors Without Borders has reported that relentless airstrikes by regime forces and allied Russia have left eight out of nine hospitals no longer functioning. Syria's civil war began in 2011 after the government brutally put down protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In the intervening five years, it has evolved into a complex multi-front conflict involving different factions and foreign powers. The war has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than half the population - at least 11 million people. Nearly 500,000 children are cut off from food and medical aid and live under siege conditions in Syria, according to UNICEF - a number that has doubled in less than a year. Many spend days underground; hospitals, schools and homes remain vulnerable to aerial bombardment. "Children are being killed and injured, too afraid to go to school or even play, surviving with little food and hardly any medicine," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. An inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN found that government forces have used chlorine barrel bombs against civilians. Syrian authorities have denied using chemical weapons in the conflict.

Civilians have fled eastern Aleppo as government forces continue their assault on Syria’s second city. In the past 13 days, regime bombardments have killed more than 200 civilians – including at least 25 children. Rebel defenses collapsed and troops marched deep into eastern Aleppo as a government assault continuedSunday. The regime’s push came after intense bombardment with airstrikes, shells and ... Read More »

UN: nearly one million Syrians live under siege

The UN aid chief has raised the alarm for nearly one million people living under siege in war-torn Syria. The number has more than doubled in the past six months. The UN under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people were currently living under siege in Syria. That number stood at just under 487,000 six months ago. Since July, 275,000 more people have reportedly come under siege in eastern Aleppo alone, where government forces have been making advances against rebels. In eastern Aleppo, O'Brien said, humanitarian conditions had worsened "from terrible to terrifying and now barely survivable." New areas that have reportedly come under siege in the past weeks and months include Joubar near Damascus, al-Hajar al-Aswad, Khan al-Shih, and multiple locales in the enclave of eastern Ghutah east of Damascus. "Civilians are being isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee. It is a deliberate tactic of cruelty to compound a people's suffering for political, military and in some cases economic gain," O'Brien said, adding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad aim was to destroy and defeat a civilian population that cannot defend itself. Situation particularly hopeless in Aleppo O'Brien's assessment built on growing international concern over the fate of Aleppo in particular, where 250,000 people continue to be trapped in the east of the city under a government siege, as Assad's military appears to advance. The prospect of Aleppo's recapture by government forces would be the biggest victory for the regime in the country's brutal five-year conflict. A European diplomat told the Agence France Presse news agency (AFP) that the Syrian government's capture of east Aleppo appeared to be only a matter of time: "Now, it's just a question of how long they (rebel forces) can hold on," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is nothing to eat, no more hospitals and the bombardment is non-stop. They are under very strong pressure." Rebel forces have steadily been losing ground since Syrian ally Russia decided to intervene Russia decided to intervene in the conflict last year in order to boost Assad's government. Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of informants on the ground in Syria, said that more than 100 civilians had been killed in east Aleppo in the past week alone, including at least 15 who died in regime air strikes, barrel bomb attacks and artillery fire. Meanwhile rebels were also reported to have fired rockets onto government-held west Aleppo, killing 10 people including eight children on the weekend. No progress in sight UN envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura meanwhile finished a visit to Damascus after the Syrian government rebuffed his plan for a truce in Aleppo that included opposition administration of eastern areas. "We told him that we reject that completely," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said about the negotiations. De Mistura warned that time was "running out" for east Aleppo, pointing out that there was concern about "an acceleration of military activities" in the city. US President Barack Obama also said he was "not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria." The long road to justice Meanwhile the US on Monday named 13 Syrian generals and officers accused of leading attacks on civilian targets, with its UN ambassador Samantha Power warning they would come to face justice one day. "The United States will not let those who have commanded units involved in these actions hide anonymously behind the facade of the Assad regime," Power told the Security Council, stressing that the United States also knows places where torture allegedly takes place in Syria. "I know right now, today, with wind at their backs, these individuals feel impunity," Power said, while reminding them that others who felt the same way in the past included Bosnian Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic and Liberian president Charles Taylor, who were eventually arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Power also said the United States was aware that opposition groups and so-called "Islamic State" (IS) extremists had also committed abuses, but didn't identify any individuals.

The UN aid chief has raised the alarm for nearly one million people living under siege in war-torn Syria. The number has more than doubled in the past six months. The UN under-secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people were currently living under siege in Syria. That number ... Read More »

Assad: Trump could be ‘natural ally’ against terrorism

The Syrian President has said Donald Trump could be an ally if his actions match his campaign rhetoric. Trump has signalled his foreign policy will be less hostile to the Assad regime than the Obama administration's. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview that US president-elect Donald Trump could be a "natural ally," if he follows through on his pledge to fight "terrorists" and overcomes "countervailing forces" in the US administration. Making his first public reaction to Trump's victory in last week's election, Assad said he was unsure if the incoming president would stay true to his campaign rhetoric about focusing more on fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and less on Syrian regime forces. "We cannot tell anything about what he's going to do, but if... he is going to fight the terrorists, of course we are going to be ally, natural ally in that regard with the Russian, with the Iranian, with many other countries," Assad told Portugal's RTP state television. In a marked departure from the Obama administration, Trump has suggested his foreign policy will be less hostile to Assad's government. The Syrian regime is currently mired in a four-way civil war that also involves mainly Islamist rebels, the IS jihadist group, and leftist Kurdish forces. "I would say this is promising, but can he deliver?" Assad said. "Can he go in that regard? What about the countervailing forces within the administration, the mainstream media that were against him? How can he deal with it?" he added. The United States is currently leading an international coalition carrying out air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq. It is also supporting rebels battling the Assad government. On Tuesday, Syrian government aircraft bombed the besieged rebel-held city of Aleppo for the first time in three weeks, activists said. In an interview with The New York Times in March, Trump said he thought "the approach of fighting Assad and (IS) simultaneously was madness, and idiocy". "You can't be fighting two people that are fighting each other, and fighting them together. You have to pick one or the other," Trump said. Trump has also pledged to improve relations with Assad's main ally in the war, Russia. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Trump in which the two pledged to combine efforts to tackle international terrorism and extremism.

The Syrian President has said Donald Trump could be an ally if his actions match his campaign rhetoric. Trump has signalled his foreign policy will be less hostile to the Assad regime than the Obama administration’s. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview that US president-elect Donald Trump could be a “natural ally,” if he follows through on his ... Read More »

Assad regime erases gains by Syrian rebels in Aleppo

Regime forces have regained areas on the edge of Aleppo that rebels had taken over the past two weeks. The most recent combat has left more than 450 people dead - including civilians and fighters from both sides. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces and their allies have regained control of two districts in western Aleppo that rebels had taken in their major offensive to break the monthslong military siege of the city's opposition-held east. In July, regime forces forces surrounded the rebel-held district, severing the last supply line into opposition neighborhoods and imposing a blockade that has led to food and fuel shortages. No international aid has entered the area since. The rebels opened a corridor to the area in August, which allowed some supplies to filter in to civilians and allied factions, but the military forced them back again in September. Opposition forces launched their most recent another offensive on October 28. Aleppo became an opposition stronghold during 2011's pro-democracy protests and the regime crackdown and war that have followed. The city's division began in mid-2012, and in September the government announced an operation to recapture all of Aleppo. In a shocking deviation from international norms, US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he could support efforts by Russia and the regime in Syria. Russia's regime support Russia's Defense Ministry will require the UN to confirm that it can deliver aid to Aleppo before the Kremlin agrees to any new humanitarian pauses in fighting in the shattered Syrian city. Ministry officials say previous temporary ceasefires on the ground - called to allow aid deliveries and evacuate civilians - have come to nothing because rebels have opened fire on anyone trying to come in or out. Backed by Russian warplanes, the government's most recent assault has killed hundreds of people in Aleppo and damaged and destroyed infrastructure - including hospitals. The government's most recent advances came as speculation has grown that Russia could prepare to provide air support for the Syrian army to capture other rebel-held parts of Aleppo. According to the Observatory, more than 450 fighters and civilians have died in the two weeks of battles. The dead include 215 opposition troops, including some who carried out suicide bomb attacks, and 143 regime forces. Nearly 100 civilians also died in the fighting - the majority of them in government-held west Aleppo - including 29 children. On Thursday, the United Nations warned that the quarter of a million residents of eastern Aleppo could starve as rations continue to run low. More than 300,000 people have died in Syria's five-year multifront war.

Regime forces have regained areas on the edge of Aleppo that rebels had taken over the past two weeks. The most recent combat has left more than 450 people dead – including civilians and fighters from both sides. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces and their allies have regained control of two districts in western ... Read More »

Aleppo rebels issue warning to civilians

Rebels and government troops resumed fighting Sunday morning after a three-day ceasefire failed to provide civilians a way out of the city. The leading moderate rebel coalition warned all non-combatants to stay away from government positions as they redoubled their attack. Fighting broke out in the city's southern neighborhoods as pro-Damascus troops also laid siege to the key village of Khan Touman, which lies along the highway connecting Aleppo and Syria's other major cities. The town has been held by al-Qaeda linked insurgents since last May. A TV channel run by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, broadcast footage of government tanks taking heavy fire as they rolled through the countryside just outside Aleppo. Siege brings devastation to civilians Once Syria's second city, Aleppo has become the focal point of a last-ditch effort on all sides to bring a decisive end to the country's protracted and asymmetrical conflict. This has led to a devastating situation for civilians, who, especially in the east, have been blocked on all sides by fighting and are not only unable to evacuate, but are also hindered from getting much-needed humanitarian aid. This crisis has been compounded by Russian airstrikes and government attacks that have seemingly targeted aid convoys. It was because of this situation that Moscow announced a three-day cessation of hostilities to begin on Thursday. The Syrian regime had set up eight corridors to allow rebels and civilians to evacuate the city, but the United Nations said they were not provided with the proper safety guarantees to either carry out an evacuation or provide aid supplies. Russia defended its resumption of airstrikes on Saturday, saying that the Kremlin was determined to rid ally Syria of "terrorists." "Some countries are trying to play with the devil and use terrorists to get rid of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, and some just say thoughtlessly that Assad must leave," said government spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "If Damascus falls and terrorists take hold there, there will be no political settlement then." The siege of Aleppo has already claimed the lives of some 500 civilians in just the past month.

The last-ditch effort to take the city once and for all has restarted in earnest. A three-day ceasefire failed to provide aid or allow civilians to evacuate. Rebels and government troops resumed fighting Sunday morning after a three-day ceasefire failed to provide civilians a way out of the city. The leading moderate rebel coalition warned all non-combatants to stay away ... Read More »

EU governments unite behind urgent call to ‘save Aleppo’

The EU's foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc's top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he'd conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now at ground zero in Syria, the rebel-held city of Aleppo: "Between now and December," he said, "if we are not finding a solution for Aleppo, Aleppo will not be there anymore." De Mistura, who'd been invited to the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said the rebel-held city had been bombed "for more than a month [with] no access to it" for humanitarian aid. Of the 275,000 inhabitants who have remained in the city despite the incessant air attacks, de Mistura said 100,000 were children. He urged the EU to unify and find a way to save these people. His words seemed to have an impact, as foreign ministers ended up approving a final statement more forceful than the language most had used on their ways into the meeting, perhaps stronger than many had thought could be mustered with unanimity: "Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict and have caused further widespread civilian casualties, including amongst women and children and may amount to war crimes," the statement read. EU 'appalled' by actions of regime 'and its allies' "Priority number one now is to save Aleppo, to save the people of Aleppo," Mogherini said. "Our strong call is on Russia and on the Syrian regime to stop the bombing on Aleppo and to continue talks with the US and other key players on the ground to avoid a …humanitarian catastrophe in the city." The document also calls on Russia to make all efforts to "halt indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian regime" - though without going so far as to mention Russia is doing much of the bombing itself - and demands "immediate and expanded humanitarian access" to besieged civilians. Will Russia respond? While ministers debated, the head of Russia's military general staff announced there would be a "humanitarian pause" on Thursday so that sick and wounded civilians could be evacuated. While Mogherini welcomed "anything that could alleviate the humanitarian suffering, the catastrophe that we're seeing in Aleppo," she also noted that UN humanitarian experts had said they'd need 12 hours to perform the needed rescues. As for whether being "appalled" by Russia's actions means EU governments are willing to consider punitive measures against Moscow, analysts aren't betting on it. So far only German Chancellor Angela Merkel - and only to one newspaper, "Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" - has called for increased European Union sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria. But it's unclear whether Merkel herself will be making that recommendation later this week at the leaders' summit in Brussels. Sanctions an option, but not one anyone wants Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at London's Institute for Statecraft, isn't surprised the meeting resulted in mere condemnation rather than a proposal for more punitive measures. "The EU always finds it difficult to agree whether to be tough or encouraging on Russia," he said. "Some EU states look at Russia and see a problem, others look at it and see an opportunity, so they pull in opposite directions." Nimmo notes even the already complicated path to getting sanctions passed by the EU 28 is much harder now because of the raft of penalties currently in place on Russia. "The easy targets have already been sanctioned," Nimmo pointed out. Even if there were willingness among governments, he told DW, "agreeing on further measures would require a lot of debate as to what and who, exactly, should be sanctioned." Marc Pierini, who served as the EU ambassador to Syria, doesn't think battling over sanctions would be a productive use of EU might anyway, because the two men who could change the fate of Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have no impetus to do so, regardless of EU ire. Now a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, Pierini says the situation is basically stuck. "The regime cannot afford to lose Aleppo," Pierini said, and Russia will continue helping them do that, unless Putin sees that it's hurting him politically. But instead, Pierini explained, "domestically Putin is gaining from this kind of brutal image, so I don't have much hope."

The EU’s foreign policy chief has said it is the bloc’s top priority to save the besieged city of Aleppo. European leaders called out Russia for aiding the Syrian regime, but stopped short of proposing punitive action. United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he’d conveyed to European Union foreign ministers just how stark the scenario is right now ... Read More »

Ceasefire comes into effect across Syria

A truce brokered by the US and Russia has come into effect nationwide except in jihadi-held areas. A monitoring group said "calm is prevailing" so far, though not all warring parties have formally signed onto the deal. The nationwide Syrian ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) under an agreement announced on Friday by the United States and Russia. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is monitoring the conflict in Syria through a network of sources on the ground, told Reuters news agency that "calm is prevailing," though director Rami Abdulrahman said there had been shelling by both government and rebel forces in the country's northwest. US Secretary of State John Kerry also said fighting seemed to have been reduced, but warned against over-optimism. "The earliest reports are that there is some reduction in violence as well as a few reports of fighting here and there, though it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions," he told reporters at the State Department." The truce is the second attempt this year by Washington and Moscow to halt fighting in the five-year-long civil war pitting the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad against an array of rebel groups ranging from moderates to Islamist extremists. Russia has long been an ally of Assad, and has been supporting his forces with airstrikes. The United States, for its part, backs some of what it deems "moderate" rebels fighting to topple the president. 'Regime of calm' The agreement aims first and foremost to allow humanitarian access to civilians trapped by the fighting, particularly in the beleaguered city of Aleppo. It is also to facilitate joint US-Russian operations against jihadi groups, including "Islamic State" (IS) and former al Qaeda ally Fateh al-Sham, who are not covered under the deal. Russia has said that the initial 48-hour ceasefire could be renewed for another 48 hours at a time if it was successful. A senior Russian official said that while Moscow would observe the truce, it would still bomb groups deemed "terrorist." The Syrian army said a seven-day "regime of calm" would be established across the country, but that it reserved the right to respond to any violation by "armed groups." Rebel groups have yet to formally state whether they will observe the truce, but some rebel sources have indicated that they will. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday urged all sides to respect the ceasefire, calling the US-Russian deal "at least a halfway realistic chance to finally get help to the war-stricken people of Syria." Extreme vow Just hours before the ceasefire took effect, President Assad pledged to take back the entire country, making no mention of the truce. Speaking in a interview broadcast by state media from Daraya, a Damascus suburb retaken from rebels by government forces, he said the Syrian state was "determined to recover every area from the terrorists." He added that the army would continue its work "without hesitation, regardless of any internal or external circumstance." His remarks might well fuel the skepticism already expressed by Syria's opposition and rebels as to whether the government will abide by the truce deal. Syria's civil war has killed more than 290,000 people and displaced many more since it erupted in 2011. Several rounds of peace efforts have so far failed to put an end to the conflict.

A truce brokered by the US and Russia has come into effect nationwide except in jihadi-held areas. A monitoring group said “calm is prevailing” so far, though not all warring parties have formally signed onto the deal. The nationwide Syrian ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) under an agreement announced on Friday by the United ... Read More »

Berlin blames Moscow for Aleppo humanitarian crisis

A spokesman for the German government has criticized Russia's offer of three-hour daily ceasefires in the Syrian city. But Moscow insists longer breaks will only help "terrorists" in the city. The German government on Monday urgently called on Russia and the Syrian government to facilitate humanitarian access to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin wanted Russia to exert its "great influence on the Syrian president" to enable food, water and medical aid to get through to the people in the northern city, which has been under siege by Russian military and Syrian government forces. He said it depended primarily on Moscow and the Syrian regime "whether the dying continued in Aleppo," and spoke of a letter to Merkel by 30 doctors who had remained in the city, in which they had appealed to her for urgent help. Seibert also criticized Moscow's offer last week of a daily three-hour ceasefire, saying that this did not provide enough time for the necessary aid to be transported into the city. He said the Russian promise was "meant to sound like a concession, but is actually cynicism, since everyone knows that this time is nowhere near enough to really restore supplies to desperate people." 'Catastrophic situation' Seibert's comments were echoed by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Russia. "The humanitarian situation in Aleppo is catastrophic. This cannot and must not continue. Three hours a day is not enough," Steinmeier said in Yekaterinburg, where the meeting took place. He called instead for a complete ceasefire. Lavrov, while admitting that three hours was "insufficient," defended the Russian offer, saying that longer ceasefires would give terrorists time to regroup and replenish supplies. "A result of the pause has been a slight improvement of the humanitarian situation," he said in comments carried by Russian state news agency TASS. "But the main result has been terrorists replenishing their numbers by 7,000 people, not to mention a large quantity of guns and munitions," he added, saying it would be necessary "to resolve issues in the fight against the terrorists" before prolonging the ceasefires. Russia, which has sent troops to help its longtime ally President Bashar al-Assad amid Syria's more than five-year-long civil war, last week announced three-hour humanitarian pauses over three days in Aleppo - a measure immediately slammed by the United Nations as inadequate. Syrian government forces last month captured the last rebel supply route to the city. The UN warned at the time that food supplies would last only until mid-August.

A spokesman for the German government has criticized Russia’s offer of three-hour daily ceasefires in the Syrian city. But Moscow insists longer breaks will only help “terrorists” in the city. The German government on Monday urgently called on Russia and the Syrian government to facilitate humanitarian access to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin ... Read More »

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