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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Security Council Holds Urgent Talks on Aleppo, as Syrian, Russian Jets Pound Rebel-held Sector

By Margaret Besheer September 25, 2016

The U.N. Security Council held urgent talks Sunday about the deadly surge of violence in Aleppo as Syrian and Russian jet fighters bombarded the rebel-controlled eastern sector of the Syrian city.

"The Assad regime is explicit: it believes only in a military solution," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council. "It says it is going to conquer militarily every last square inch of Syria. And it does not care what's left of Syria in pursuing that military solution."

The United States, France and Britain called the emergency session to pressure Russia to control its ally Syria to end the attacks on the 275,000 people trapped in the city. The assault – missile strikes, barrel bombs and artillery fire – has flattened buildings, leaving streets filled with debris and chunks of concrete. The U.N. says some 213 people have been killed in the offensive.

U.S. Ambassador Power said more than 150 air strikes had hit the city in the last three days, accusing Russia and Syria of conducting an "all-out offensive" to retake Aleppo.

"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," she said.

"Russia should be creating, not destroying, the conditions necessary for the resumption of political talks," British ambassador Matthew Rycroft said. "If it does not take these steps, and more, Russia will only confirm its status as an international pariah."

"War crimes are being committed here in Aleppo," said French Ambassador Francois Delattre, who compared what is happening to the ancient city to battles in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Guernica during the Spanish civil war. He said Aleppo has become a "martyred city."

"The territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now because of this," said Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura gave a bleak update on the situation, saying it is impossible to count the air strikes.

"Sources on the ground tell us they no longer have the capacity to count them accurately," he said. "We heard the words "unprecedented" in quantity and also in scale and type, in the types of bombings."

He urged that the cessation of hostilities not be "buried under the dust of Aleppo's rubble" and called on the Security Council to press for a stop to the violence, protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and institute weekly unconditional 48-hour pauses to get humanitarian aid in and the seriously wounded out.

Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar al-Ja'afari also addressed the meeting, vowing that the Syrian government will recapture all of Aleppo. The U.S., French and British ambassadors walked out when the Syrian envoy delivered his statement.

Late Saturday, foreign ministers from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Britain and high representatives of the European Union pushed Moscow to support humanitarian assistance, stop bombings on Syrians, and renew truce efforts.

"The burden is on Russia to prove it is willing and able to take extraordinary steps to salvage diplomatic efforts to restore a cessation of hostilities, allow unfettered humanitarian assistance and create the conditions necessary for the resumption of U.N.-led talks about a political transition," the statement said.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that Russia is "guilty of protracting this war and making it far more hideous" and suggesting that Moscow was possibly guilty of war crimes in the bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy near Aleppo last week that killed 20 people.

The allies maintained their commitment to dismantle the Islamic State group and asked Russia to focus on al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Syria.

'Fight against terrorism'

As the Russian-backed Syrian military pressed its Aleppo offensive Saturday, the country's foreign minister said Syrians would "not relent in their fight against terrorism."

"Our belief in victory is even greater now as the Syrian Arab Army is making great strides against terrorists, with the support of the true friends of the Syrian people – notably, the Russian Federation, Iran and the Lebanese national resistance [Hezbollah]," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

His remarks reinforced Western concerns that the Assad government is seeking a military end to the conflict, not a politically negotiated one, and that Russia supports that goal.

The United Nations said intense airstrikes against rebel-held areas of Aleppo had left 1.75 million people without running water, days into one of the heaviest sieges of the war.

Aleppo, the country's largest city, has been divided among government troops, rebel militias, Islamic extremists and Kurdish fighters since 2012. Syrian opposition media called the latest airstrikes over the city the "worst fighting" of the Syrian conflict.

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