Moscow: Russia on Thursday said it would press on with a bombing campaign in Syria, ignoring US threats, as the United Nations pleaded for medical evacuations from the war-ravaged city of Aleppo.
Speaking at the UN Security Council, aid chief Stephen O’Brien said that Aleppo had now descended into a “merciless abyss of humanitarian catastrophe unlike any we have witnessed in Syria.”
Moscow is backing up a ferocious assault by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to seize the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo, which has sparked accusations over possible war crimes.
The United States has threatened to pull the plug on any more talks with Russia if it does not halt the attack on Aleppo as acrimony seethes between the two powers after the collapse of a truce deal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that despite “unconstructive” rhetoric from Washington, Moscow was still interested in seeing the tattered deal, meant to see the US and Russia eventually coordinate strikes on jihadists, work out.
He blamed the surge in violence on Washington’s failure to control rebel groups fighting in Aleppo and insisted that Syrian forces were battling “terrorists”.
“Moscow is continuing its air operation to support the anti-terrorist actions of the Syrian armed forces,” he said.
– ‘Special responsibility’ -But Moscow — which has been flying a bombing campaign in support of Assad for a year — was facing fresh calls to help halt the bloodshed in Syria that has claimed some 300,000 lives since 2011.
Assad opponents German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after speaking by phone that Russia has a “special responsibility to calm violence and give a political process a chance” in Syria.
“The latest offensive by the Syrian regime against Aleppo — supported by Russia — has made the suffering of the civilian population yet worse,” the two leaders agreed, according to a statement released by Merkel’s office.
The UN envoy for Syria meanwhile said there was little prospect of an imminent restart of any negotiations to try to end the raging conflict as the violence continues.
“At the moment, when bombs are falling all over, it is very difficult to justify resuming talks,” Staffan de Mistura told AFP after he met Pope Francis at the Vatican.
– Medical evacuations -In a sign of how desperate the situation is on the ground inside besieged eastern Aleppo, the United Nations warned Thursday that “probably hundreds” of people needed medical evacuation.
“Utmost on our mind is the need to address the very concerning medical situation” in the east of Aleppo, UN deputy envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, told reporters in Geneva.
“The bombing must stop. Civilians must be protected. And the cessation of hostilities must be restored,” Ramzy insisted.
His comments came a day after two of the largest hospitals in the city’s east were bombed, prompting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to describe that attack as a war crime.
Dozens of civilians have been killed, residential buildings have been reduced to rubble and residents of east Aleppo are facing severe shortages.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said at least 96 children have been killed and 223 wounded since Friday in eastern Aleppo.