SYRIA / FRANCE – France called on Russia to ask the Syrian government to ease the humanitarian crisis in two opposition-controlled areas that saw more air strikes on Friday, raising the death toll in one of the bloodiest weeks of the war.
Syrian army forces are shelling the last two major armed opposition areas, the eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus and Idlib in the northwest of the country near the Turkish border. The Syrian army made clear progress in the war thanks to the help of Russia and Iran.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes killed more than 12 people in the eastern Ghouta to the east of Damascus, where the death toll jumped to more than 230 in the past four days, making it the biggest death toll in the region since 2015.
The Observatory said warplanes killed 14 people in Idlib.
The multilateral conflict is also on other fronts as Turkey carries out a major operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of northwestern Syria against Kurdish forces considered by Ankara as a threat to its security. Turkey resumed its air strikes on Afrin overnight.
Diplomatic efforts have made no progress towards ending a nearly eight-year-old war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and forced half of Syria’s 23 million people before the war to leave their homes and millions were forced to live as refugees.
French President Emmanuel Macaron telephoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to urge him to do everything in his power to ensure that Damascus puts an end to the humanitarian crisis in the eastern Gauta and Idleb, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.
McCron also told Putin that progress in peace talks was needed and he was concerned about signs of recent use of chlorine bombs against civilians. Damascus has consistently denied the use of chemical weapons.
Putin and McCron discussed the Syrian peace process during the contacts, the Kremlin said.
The United Nations warns of a surge in violence and on Tuesday called for a humanitarian truce for at least a month to allow relief supplies and evacuation of the wounded.
But Russia said on Thursday the cease-fire was unrealistic and that militants were responsible for the bloodshed.
– “Disaster” –
In eastern Ghouta, the last large opposition-controlled area near Damascus, residents described bombing as one of the fiercest bombing campaigns in the war, with many towns being shelled simultaneously and people forced to live in shelters for days.
“My brother was injured yesterday and we had to amputate his leg,” a resident of al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya told Reuters on Friday. We thank God that it was limited to that. ”
“My brother was injured by shrapnel while sitting in his house,” said the resident, who said his name was Adnan.
Damascus has repeatedly said it targets only militants. State television reported that the bombing of the opposition gunmen killed two people and wounded four in Damascus. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said the army was shelling the militant positions in al-Ghouta.
“People have collapsed and people are telling the same thing on the streets,” said Siraj Mahmoud, spokesman for the civil defense rescue service in the opposition-controlled area, where some 350,000 people live. Do not know where to go. We are living a disaster. ”
“Children in the eastern Ghouta are starving and subjected to shelling and siege,” the Save the Children Foundation said in a statement. She added, citing her partners on the ground, that 45 schools in the eastern Ghouta have been attacked since the beginning of the year and that 11 were completely destroyed.
“These massive air strikes are very worrying, especially as they targeted mental health centers,” UN spokesman Real Loblan told a press briefing in Geneva.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, WFP Regional Director Jacob Kern called again for a cessation of hostilities so that the organization could send humanitarian aid but also made clear that the Syrian government did not provide the necessary permits to send aid.
“It has been almost 60 days since the last convoy we sent to a besieged area,” Kern told Reuters in a telephone interview from Damascus.
“Frustration is compounded. On the one hand, we do not get the approvals to actually go (to the besieged areas), but even if we get those approvals, there are a lot of ongoing battles, “he said, referring to military operations in Idlib, Ghouta, Afrin and the south.
– Turkish air campaign –
The Turkish army, which launched an air and ground attack on Afrin on January 20, said it had carried out air strikes on targets of Kurdish people’s protection units in the Afrin region. The Syrian Observatory said the strikes killed seven fighters and two civilians.
The overnight attacks came after a lull in Turkish air strikes following the downing of a Russian warplane in another part of Syria at the weekend.
The Turkish armed forces said in a statement that the air strikes destroyed 19 targets including ammunition depots, shelters and weapons sites, but the statement did not specify when the raids took place. The state-run Anatolian News Agency reported that the raids began at midnight.
Ankara considers the units to protect the Kurdish people a terrorist group and an extension of the PKK, which has been carrying out armed operations in Turkey for three decades.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan had spoken by telephone on Thursday and agreed to strengthen military and security coordination in Syria.
People’s protection units and their allies set up three autonomous regions in northern Syria, including Afrin, since the war began in 2011.