Europe and the US have ramped up diplomatic pressure on Russia, accusing it of supporting the Syrian regime's offensive on Aleppo that has derailed efforts to revive Syria's ceasefire.
The UN Security Council held an urgent meeting yesterday at the request of Britain, the US and France to discuss the attacks on the city, which is suffering the fiercest bombing of the five-year civil war, apparently with support from Russian warplanes.
French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the meeting that Russia and Iran, which also backs the Syrian regime, would be guilty of war crimes if they did not press President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence.
He said the Syrian government “has clearly made the choice of a military escalation”.
“I am calling on Russia and Iran to pull themselves together and show responsibility, by putting a stop to this strategy,” Mr Ayrault said. “If not, Russia and Iran will be accomplices in war crimes committed in Aleppo.”
Foreign ministers from the US, the UK, France,
– plus the EU’s foreign policy chief – have accused Russia of violating the ceasefire.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the 15-member council. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Moscow’s support for attacks by Mr Assad’s forces “blatantly contradicts Russia’s claim that it supports a diplomatic resolution”, the US and European ministers said in a joint statement on Sunday. “The burden is on Russia to prove it is willing and able to take extraordinary steps to salvage diplomatic efforts.”
More than 200 civilians have died in three days of near-constant shelling that has pounded rebel-held districts, according to medical professionals in the area. Aleppo – the biggest strategic and political prize of the conflict – is divided between regime forces on the west and rebels in the east, where a quarter of a million people are trapped under a government siege.
Residents say the latest bombing has even damaged these underground clinics, with what they call “bunker-busting” weapons.
Several hospitals have also been destroyed in strikes that have caused such destruction that many roads and districts have been blocked by debris as aid workers struggle to reach people trapped under rubble. Medical workers said rescuers have had to walk several kilometres to reach bomb sites – and back out again with wounded survivors.
The ceasefire was brokered earlier this month by Moscow and Washington, which backs Syria’s opposition. But it collapsed last Monday, just seven days after it began.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)