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German MPs call for Syrian flight ban

A majority of German parliamentarians have come out in support of a proposed temporary halt to military flights over Syria. But for the idea to have any chance of working, Russia will have to come on board.

In a special debate of the Bundestag on Syria, deputies from Germany's two governing parties expressed support for a ban on military flights over the country. On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) called for a comprehensive prohibition to last for "three or better still seven days." Steinmeier's initiative echoed similar demands made by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Social Democrats took the lead in encouraging support for the idea, which followed an aerial attack on a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo on Monday that killed 21 people.

"Only one side has an air force at its disposal," SPD parliamentarian Niels Annen argued. "We cannot allow attacks on humanitarian convoys to become part of the conflict."

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Michael Roth (SPD) portrayed the flight ban as the best chance to revive a faltering ceasefire between the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and Syrian opposition groups.

"Foreign Minister Steinmeier has made a new suggestion on how to break this vicious circle," said Roth. "Suggestions of aerial humanitarian aid require security."

The United Nations has said that it will resume deliveries of humanitarian aid, despite 45 people being killed in pre-dawn aerial attacks on the opposition-held city of Aleppo on Thursday.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Steinmeier says the ban is the best chance for reviving the ceasefire

Conservatives attack Putin

The proposed flight ban will be on the agenda when the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), whose 20 nations include Russia and the US, meets in New York later on Thursday. The SPD's coalition partners, the conservative CDU-CSU, also urged the international community to support the idea.

"It won't completely solve the problem, but every airplane we take out of the air also takes bombs out of the air," said conservative parliamentarian Johann Wadephul.

And they also pointed the finger at Russia and Assad ally Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Unfortunately the key to solving a lot of problems is located in Moscow," said CDU deputy Jürgen Hardt. "The main responsibility for the bombing has to lie with Russia. Russia has the influence over Syria. Putin has to see that despite his support for the Assad regime, the conflict cannot be won with military means."

Those sentiments were echoed by a number of speakers. But the opposition didn't necessarily accept the arguments for the flight ban.

Syria Aleppo

There was more aerial bombing in Aleppo on Thursday

Greens skeptical, Left opposed

Green deputies said they supported the idea in principle, but questioned how it would work practically.

"There are legitimate questions as to who will enforce the ban on flights," said Green parliamentarian Franziska Brantner. "But the goal of stopping the bombing is absolutely correct."

By contrast, the Left Party depicted Steinmeier's suggestion as an aggressive attempt to promote the anti-Assad side in the Syria conflict.

"Calling for a ban on flights is nothing but an act of war," argued Left parliamentarian Sevim Dagdelen. "It's nothing other than a call for an expansion of the war on the ground. It entails shooting down any planes that don't abide by the ban. The demand is wrong and dangerous. It's the equivalent of a free pass for the trucks of the Islamic State."

Critics often accuse the opposition in Syria of being radically Islamist.

Assad with Putin

Putin is Assad's main ally

What will Russia do?

The ball is now in Russia's court at the ISSG meeting.

"We will see today whether Russia will be on board," Syria expert Kristin Helberg told Deutsche Welle. "And whether Russia will be able to put the pressure on Assad to abide by a ban on military flights."

Ultimately, Helberg argued, the fighting in Syria will continue as long as Russia helps its leader to stay in power.

"To get back to any kind of negotiations, there has to be pressure on the Assad regime," Helberg said. "The track to peace in Syria goes through Moscow. Russia has to understand that negotiated power change inside Damascus, a transitional period as they all agreed upon last December in the UN Security Council, is the only chance. It's in Russia's interest to lead to this and pressure Assad to step down."

In a lengthy interview with the AP news agency ahead of the ISSG meeting, Assad struck an intransigent tone. He denied that Syrian or Russian planes were responsible for the Monday convoy bombing and blamed the United States for the failure of the ceasefire, saying that Washington was unwilling to join in "fighting terrorists." And he predicted that the violence in Syria would only "drag on."

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