US accuses Russia of ‘barbarism’ in Syria
UNITED NATIONS // The United States on Sunday called Russia’s action in Syria “barbarism” as medics in rebel-held Aleppo were flooded with casualties after one of the bloodiest weeks in more than five years of conflict.
Addressing an emergency meeting of the United Nations Secuity Council, the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura outlined the devastating effect of the Syrian government’s military offensive to retake eastern Aleppo.
He said the Russian-backed assault targeting civilians with sophisticated weapons may amount to war crimes, with dozens of air strikes against residential areas and buildings causing scores of civilian deaths.
The Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the US, Britain and France to discuss the escalation of fighting in Aleppo following the announcement on Thursday of an offensive by the Syrian army to retake the city.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” US Ambassador to the United Nations, 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.”
Dozens of civilians were killed on Sunday as Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow, relentlessly bombed the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo.
Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties with medical workers expecting many of the wounded to die from a lack of treatment.
A September 9 ceasefire deal between US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track collapsed last Monday when an aid convoy was bombed.
At the UN, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Russia should be investigated for war crimes for the convoy attack that killed 20 people. He said Russia’s air force may have deliberately targeted the civilian convoy. Russia denies involvement and instead suggests Syrian rebels or a US drone were responsible.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia and Iran will be guilty of war crimes if they do not pressure Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to stop escalating violence.
Mr Ayrault said the emergency Security Council meeting Sunday was a “moment of truth” for the UN.
But Vitaly Churkin, the Russian UN Ambassador, attempted to deflect blame for the state of the conflict towards the various rebel groups.
“In Syria hundreds of armed groups are being armed, the territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now because of this.”
Russia has one of five veto-powers on the security council, and along with China, has protected Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government by blocking several attempts at council action.
As Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari began addressing the council, the UN ambassadors from the US, France and Britain walked out of the chamber.
Mr de Mistura appealed to the council to come up with a way to enforce a cessation of hostilities in Syria.
But four days into the renewed Syrian government assault, hopes of a renewed ceasefire have been extinguished in Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 23 civilians had been killed by 6pm local time on Sunday. But Ibrahim Alhaj of the Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue group said hospitals and rescuers had recorded 43 deaths.
“I’ve never seen so many people dying in once place,” said Mohammad Zein Khandaqani, a member of the Medical Council, which oversees hospitals and clinics in opposition areas.
“It’s terrifying. In less than one hour the Russian planes have killed more than 50 people and injured more than 200.”
The Observatory, said earlier in the day that 213 civilians have been killed by air strikes and shelling on opposition areas in and around Aleppo since a ceasefire collapsed.
Rebels meanwhile shelled Masyaf, a government stronghold near the central city of Hama, for the second day in a row. Masyaf is home to a large number of Alawites, members of Mr Al Assad’s sect.
As the meetings continues in New York, a broad coalition of Syrian rebels denounced international negotiations for peace as “meaningless.” The statement released jointly by 33 factions called on the government and Russian forces to halt air strikes and lift sieges on opposition areas.
The UN estimates 600,000 Syrians are trapped in various sieges enforced by the government, rebels, and ISIL across the country.
“Negotiations under the present conditions are no longer useful and are meaningless,” the statement said.
The factions said they would not accept to have Russia mediate any negotiations, calling it a “partner to the regime in the crimes against our people.”
*Reuters and Associated Press
Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM