Russia fires back after Syrian rebel's criticism

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BEIRUT (AP) — 4:15 p.m.

(Image Source: U.S. Army / MGN)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says a Syrian rebel leader's remarks concerning a humanitarian pause raise questions about the insurgents' sincerity in honoring a U.N. cease-fire resolution.

Mohammed Alloush, head of the largest insurgent group in eastern Ghouta, argued that a daily humanitarian pause introduced by Russia is aimed at displacing civilians rather than protecting them.

Speaking after talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Lavrov countered by saying that the U.N. resolution specifically calls on all combatants not to put any obstacles in the way of those seeking to leave besieged areas.

No civilians have left eastern Ghouta since the humanitarian pause began Tuesday. Russia accuses the insurgents of preventing people from leaving, allegations denied by the rebels.

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4 p.m.

France has cautiously welcomed a "humanitarian pause" to the fighting in Syria declared by Russia, but is demanding that all sides commit to a U.N. cease-fire resolution.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Moscow that the five-hour pause that started Tuesday "is a real advance. We support this advance, but it is one step."

Le Drian held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to press Russia to use its influence with Syria's military to enforce the U.N. cease-fire.

Lavrov said the humanitarian pause will show how serious Syrian opposition forces are about the cease-fire.

Russia proposed the daily pause to allow aid groups into eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held enclave near Damascus, and to allow civilians to flee. But no civilians have left the embattled area so far, and aid groups say the pause is insufficient.

France is stepping up efforts to engage Russia diplomatically in hopes of finding common ground on a political solution for Syria.

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3:30 p.m.

The leader of the main insurgent group fighting in an embattled region near Syria's capital says a daily humanitarian pause announced by Russia is aimed at displacing civilians rather than protecting them.

Mohammed Alloush, head of the largest insurgent group in eastern Ghouta, on Tuesday called on Russia to stop bombing the area and commit to a U.N. cease-fire resolution.

He said: "If Russia is concerned about civilians in eastern Ghouta, it should halt its planes immediately from bombing towns and residences and should stop the regime of (Syrian President Bashar) Assad from its war of extermination."

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, proposed a daily five-hour pause to allow aid groups to deliver assistance and civilians to flee through so-called humanitarian corridors.

No civilians have left the area since the humanitarian pause began Tuesday. Russia accuses the insurgents of preventing people from leaving, allegations denied by the rebels.

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3 p.m.

The Red Cross says Russia's humanitarian pause in an embattled rebel-held enclave near Damascus offers little time for aid delivery and provides no guarantees of safety for besieged residents.

Ingy Sedky, the spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus, said Tuesday that any respite from the fighting in eastern Ghouta is welcome, but that five hours is "very limited and there is little that we can achieve in such limited time."

Sedky says aid was last delivered to eastern Ghouta in November, when the situation was already "very critical and very dire." The area has been surrounded by government forces since 2013.

Russia ordered a five-hour daily pause starting Tuesday, urging civilians to leave as Moscow-backed government forces step up their offensive.

Sedky says many civilians will be afraid to use designated humanitarian corridors unless their safety can be guaranteed.

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9:40 a.m.

A Russia-ordered "humanitarian pause" has gone into effect to allow civilians to leave a rebel-held enclave near Damascus but there were no immediate signs of any corridors set up for people to use.

Rami Aburrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that no violence was reported on Tuesday in the enclave, known as eastern Ghouta — a collection of suburbs just east of the Syrian capital.

Aburrahman says only a few artillery shells hit Douma, one of the suburbs.

Civilians caught in the violence have mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin's order of a five-hour open corridor.

Ingy Sedky with the international Red Cross says that for a humanitarian corridor to work, it needs to be well planned and implemented with the consent of all parties in the conflict.