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France's Macron Presses Putin On Syria Cease-Fire


Syrian forces stand between portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to ensure that Syria accepts "without any ambiguity" a UN resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire, the French presidency says.

Macron's office said he made the call during a telephone conversation on March 5, the day after the White House made some of the harshest comments directed toward Russia for its support of President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria's seven-year civil war.

It also comes after Assad vowed to press ahead with a military offensive on the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta that has left more than 600 civilians dead since February 18, according to activists.

Some 393,000 people are trapped in the besieged area just to the east of the capital, Damascus.

Aid Convoy

On March 5, trucks carrying urgently needed supplies entered Ghouta – the first aid to reach the besieged enclave in weeks despite a call by the UN Security Council for a nationwide, 30-day cease-fire and a local, daily “humanitarian truce” ordered by Moscow, Syria's main ally.

During his phone conversation with Putin, Macron "stressed that humanitarian convoys must be able to reach all populations in need unhindered and without further delay," according to the Elysee Palace.

The French president acknowledged that "armed opposition groups have accepted the humanitarian truce, and the inadequacy of the five-hour humanitarian ‘pause’ decided by Russia," a statement said.

Earlier, dozens of aid trucks entered Ghouta as continued bombardment killed at least 45 more civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"With thousands in need of life-saving aid, today's 46-truck convoy will provide some relief," the Red Cross said on Twitter. "Aid includes food parcels for 27,500 people, flour bags, and medical supplies."

However, the UN's humanitarian office said that the Syrian government did not allow 70 percent of the health supplies to be loaded, and would not allow them to be replaced by other items.

'Brutal Complicity'

Referring to the daily five-hour truce, which the United States has dismissed as a "joke," Assad said in comments broadcast on March 4 that there was “no contradiction between a truce and combat operations.”

“We must continue with the operation in parallel with opening the way for civilians to leave," he also said.

The United States later accused Moscow of "brutal” complicity in civilian deaths in eastern Ghouta, saying that Russian aircraft have flown bombing missions targeting the enclave in defiance of the UN call for a cease-fire.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the Syrian war, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests.

Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

"The United States condemns the ongoing military offensive that the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is perpetrating against the people of eastern Ghouta," the White House said in a statement.

It said Russian military aircraft launched from Hmeimim airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 bombing missions a day near Damascus and eastern Ghouta between February 24 and February 28.

"Russia has gone on to ignore [a UN cease-fire's] terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations," it said.

Responding to the U.S. accusations, Russia's Defense Ministry said on March 5 that the United States was the one breaching the UN resolution calling for a nationwide, 30-day cease-fire, saying it had done nothing to stop rebels from launching attacks on the Syrian Army in Ghouta and shelling Damascus.

"Washington does nothing to tame militants under its control in eastern Ghouta," a statement said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)
French President Emmanuel Macron (file photo)

Also on March 4, Macron urged Iranian President Hassan Rohani to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian government to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in the enclave.

During a phone conversation, the French president underscored the "particular responsibility for Iran, because of its ties to the [Damascus] regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce" sought by the UN, his office said.

According to the Iranian presidency's website, Rohani told Macron that countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies must answer for "war crimes" being committed in Yemen.

France is one of the biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia, which since 2015 has been leading a military coalition backing the internationally recognized government in Yemen against Shi’ite Huthi rebels and their allies.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TASS
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