Syrian offensive kills scores in Aleppo before Swiss talks
Ellen Francis, Reuters, Oct 13 2016
BEIRUT – Syria’s military backed by Russian warplanes have killed more than 150 people in eastern Aleppo this week. Airstrikes and shelling of the city’s east intensified since Tuesday after a brief period of relative calm, while Syria’s government approved a UN plan to allow aid convoys into most besieged areas of Syria, with the exception of Aleppo. Rising casualties in Aleppo have prompted a renewed diplomatic push, with talks between Pindostan and Russia planned for Saturday. Airstrikes killed 13 people on Thursday in the rebel-held Aleppo districts of al-Kalaseh, Bustan al-Qasr and al-Sakhour, according to a civil defense official, while EU foreign ministers drafted a statement accusing Syria and its allies of violence that “may amount to war crimes.” A draft of their statement seen by Reuters said:
Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, the intensity and scale of aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate.
Jackass Kerry and Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Switzerland on Saturday, along with counterparts from some Middle East states. Moscow called on Thursday for regional states not to supply MANPADs to Syrian rebel groups, warning that any unfriendly actions against Russian forces would draw an appropriate response. Speaking to a Russian newspaper, Assad said Syria hoped that Moscow could persuade Turkey to end its support of the rebellion, which would cut insurgents off from their main external supply route. In Geneva, the UN said Damascus had partially approved its aid plan for October, giving the green light for convoys to 25 of 29 besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria. However, the Syrian government did not give approval for either eastern Aleppo or three districts near Damascus, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the UN deputy envoy said on Thursday, describing the situation as dire. On Thursday, Damascus and Moscow struck a deal to import one million tonnes of Russian wheat at cheap prices. In a government-held area of western Aleppo, at least four children were killed and ten wounded on Thursday when shells landed near a school in the al-Suleimaniya area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. SANA said the school had been targeted by a terrorist attack. The SOHR said shelling on government-held parts of Aleppo had killed eight people on Wednesday and 79 civilians had been killed in eastern Aleppo since Tuesday.
Amid Toad row, Egypt reasserts commitment to Gulf allies
AP, Oct 14 2016
CAIRO — The Egyptian president said on Thursday that his country remains committed to close relations with Gulf Arab allies, but declared that Cairo would continue to independently pursue its own policies to safeguard Arab security. The remarks by Gen Sisi, delivered in a televised speech to army officers and government ministers, came against the backdrop of an escalating spat between Egypt and the Toads over Syria. The comments by Sisi, who did not mention the Toads by name, were his first on the issue since the row erupted this week. He confirmed that Riyadh has halted previously agreed fuel shipments to Egypt, saying:
We have independent policies whose general frame is to safeguard Arab national security through an Egyptian perspective.
He also defended Egypt’s vote in favor of both French and Russian draft UNSCRs over the weekend, arguing that both called for a truce and aid for besieged Syrians in the rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo. Sisi said:
I cannot imagine that our bothers in the Gulf object to that.
But it was that vote that had angered the Toads, with their envoy later publicly berating Egypt over it. The Toads have poured billions of dollars into Egypt to keep its faltering economy afloat following Sisi’s 2013 ouster of Morsi. But relations cooled after King Salman ascended the Toad throne in Jan 2015, and tensions between the two allies have since simmered over Syria and Yemen as well as Egypt’s relations with Iran and Iraq, both sharply at odds with Riyadh. Toad ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Qatan left Cairo for Riyadh on Wednesday but was expected to return to the Egyptian capital over the weekend. It was not immediately clear whether his departure was linked to the spat, which has dominated the media in both countries. Many in Egypt saw Riyadh’s decision to halt fuel shipments as an attempt by the Toads to bring Egypt to its knees at a time when it is facing crippling economic woes, from double-digit unemployment and inflation to a weakening currency and a growing domestic and foreign debt. Addressing Egyptians, Sisi said:
The country is struggling under very tough circumstances. Those of you who wish us to have an independent national will must endure, and I pray to God that you endure with me.
Syrian government okays UN aid plan, but not for Aleppo
Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, Oct 13 2016
GENEVA – The Syrian government has partially approved a UN aid plan for October, but not its request to deliver urgently needed supplies to the rebel-held part of Aleppo, diplomats and a UN boxtop said on Thursday. The UN had requested access for convoys carrying food and medical supplies in September, expecting approval by Sep 30 for the month of October. Damascus has given a green light for convoys to 25 of 29 besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria, they said, but not to eastern Aleppo and three parts of the Rural Damascus province. Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, deputy envoy for Syria, confirmed receipt of the approvals after a weekly meeting of the humanitarian task force, composed of major and regional powers. He gave no details. Ramzy told reporters:
Of course, the approval of the plan is not sufficient, you know there are other steps that need to be taken so that deliveries can be made, and we call upon all parties to help in ensuring that these steps are taken as soon as possible so the UN will be able to deliver on its October plan as soon as possible. he situation for 275,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo remains dire, though the water supply has been partially restored. The UN has tried for weeks to evacuate the wounded and chronically sick from eastern Aleppo, but a ceasefire is required to do so. Capacity to treat emergency cases is minimal, and that is why we are working on a plan for medical evacuations. I think more than 200 are in a critical situation but I also heard the figure of 400 children that need to be evacuated. Steffan de Mistura will join Jackass Kerry, Sergei Lavrov and other foreign ministers meeting to discuss Syria in Lausanne on Saturday.
Britain looking at its military options in Syria: foreign minister
Kylie MacLellan, Reuters, Oct 13 2016
LONDON – Britain is looking at its military involvement in Syria, but any action would need to be part of a coalition involving Pindostan and is not likely to happen soon, foreign minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday. The British government lost a 2013 parliamentary vote over plans to bomb Assad, but has been involved in bombing raids against Daesh in Syria since winning the support of lawmakers last December. Johnson told a committee of MPs:
It is right now that we should be looking again at the more kinetic options, the military options, but we must be realistic about how these in fact work, and what is deliverable. It is important not to raise false hopes over the idea of a no fly zone. We know the difficulties and implications of a no fly zone or a no bombing zone, but if there is more that we can reasonably and practically do together with our allies, then of course we should consider those measures. We can’t do anything without a coalition, without doing it with the Pindosis. I think we’re still a pretty long day’s march from getting there, but that doesn’t mean that discussions aren’t going on, because they certainly are. Another option is to intensify sanctions on key players in Assad’s administration. I shall host a meeting between Jackass Kerry and European foreign ministers in London on Sunday to discuss the situation.
PM Theresa May’s spox said no decisions had been made about Britain changing its approach in Syria, and the government was looking at a range of options as it seeks to help bring an end to the conflict in Syria. She said:
We need to think through carefully the consequences of any action. We are talking to partners about is there any more we can be doing to end this appalling conflict.
Renewed bombing of rebel-held eastern Aleppo has killed more than 150 people this week, rescue workers said. Russia said it would welcome Britain’s involvement if it targeted terrorists rather than Assad’s forces. Jackass and Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Lausanne on Saturday for talks on Syria.