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U.S. Condemns Russia For 'Brutal' Complicity In Syrian Deaths

RFE/RL March 05, 2018

The United States has accused Moscow of "brutal" complicity in civilian deaths in Syria's eastern Ghouta region, saying that Russian aircraft have flown bombing missions targeting the rebel-held enclave in defiance of a United Nations cease-fire.

The remarks from the White House on March 4 represented some of the harshest comments directed toward Russia for its support of President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria's seven-year civil war.

They came as Syria's military appeared to be advancing on several fronts in its operation to seize the besieged area just to the east of Damascus.

"The United States condemns the ongoing military offensive that the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is perpetrating against the people of eastern Ghouta," the White House said in a statement.

It said Russian military aircraft launched from Hmeimim airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 bombing missions a day near Damascus and eastern Ghouta between February 24-28.

"Russia has gone on to ignore [a UN cease-fire's] terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations," it said.

Responding to the U.S. accusations, Russia's Defense Ministry said on March 5 that the United States was the one breaching the UN resolution calling for a nationwide, 30-day cease-fire, saying it had done nothing to stop rebels from launching attacks on the Syrian Army in Ghouta and shelling Damascus.

"Washington does nothing to tame militants under its control in eastern Ghouta," a statement said.

Violence there has left more than 600 people dead since government forces and their allies escalated their offensive on the Damascus suburb on February 18, according to activists.

Neither a local "humanitarian truce" ordered by Moscow nor the call for a nationwide cease-fire by the UN Security Council have led to any humanitarian relief for the embattled enclave, where some 393,000 people are trapped.

On March 4, Assad said his forces would press on with their offensive against rebels in eastern Ghouta despite the international calls to end it.

Referring to the daily five-hour truce, which the United States has dismissed as a "joke," Assad said in comments broadcast on state television there was "no contradiction between a truce and combat operations."

"The progress achieved yesterday and the day before in Ghouta by the Syrian Arab Army was made during this truce," he also said. "Therefore, we must continue with the operation in parallel with opening the way for civilians to leave."

Earlier on March 4, U.S. President Donald Trump and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call that the Syrian government and its Russian backers bore responsibility for the "heartbreaking human suffering" in Ghouta, May's office said.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the Syrian war, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests.

Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

Also on March 4, French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian government to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in the enclave.

During a phone conversation, the French president underscored the "particular responsibility for Iran, because of its ties to the [Damascus] regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce" sought by the UN, his office said.

According to the Iranian presidency's website, Rohani told Macron that countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies must answer for "war crimes" being committed in Yemen.

France is one of the biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a military coalition backing the Yemeni internationally recognized government against Shi'ite Huthi rebels and their allies since 2015.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and the BBC

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/us-russia-syria- iran-ghouta-deaths/29078740.html

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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