German FM Steinmeier calls for hostilities to cease in Syria′s Aleppo | News | DW | 12.08.2016
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German FM Steinmeier calls for hostilities to cease in Syria's Aleppo

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has decried Russia's "high level of responsibility" for the "catastrophic situation in Aleppo." Humanitarian access has to be assured by the UN, the minister said.

Steinmeier issued a statement on Friday saying there was an urgent need for help to reach the besieged civilian population in the city of Aleppo, which has been hit by Russian military airstrikes in support of Syrian government forces since last September.

On Saturday, he told the "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper that an "airlift" may be necessary for Aleppo, especially for medical goods. The term "airlift" in German history reawakens memories of Allied deliveries to Soviet-blockaded former West Berlin in 1948.

"We urgently need to make sure that help quickly reaches the people in Aleppo now," Steinmeier wrote in his article Friday for the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," parts of which were translated and shared by Germany's foreign ministry.

"That can only happen if hostilities actually cease and aid workers gain access to both parts of the cities without endangering their lives - by which I mean regime-controlled western Aleppo and opposition-held eastern Aleppo."

"Humanitarian access has to be assured under the auspices of the UN," Steinmeier said. "It cannot be controlled autonomously by one side of the conflict."

A family fleeing to a safer part of Manbij city in Aleppo Governate

A family fleeing to a safer part of Manbij city in Aleppo Governate

Steinmeier said the foreign ministry was in contact with the United Nations and was looking for ways to do more. "We are already the largest provider of funding for humanitarian aid in Syria," he wrote.

Germany supports hospitals, electrical provision for drinking-water pumps and assists the UN with food supplies.

On Saturday

Russia bears 'high level of responsibility'

Steinmeier did not hold back on his criticism of Russian action in what he described as a "catastrophic situation in Aleppo." He said he had spoken to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, making it clear to him that "as a supporter of the [Assad] regime, Russia bore a particularly high level of responsibility with regard to the ceasefire and to humanitarian access."

He echoed UN comments on the subject when he wrote: "A unilaterally declared ceasefire of three hours per day will certainly not be enough to avert a humanitarian disaster."

Further airstrikes

Airstrikes on a hospital, a market and a village in opposition areas of northern Aleppo province were reported by first-response group Syrian Civil Defense on Friday.

The group said the attack before dawn on the hospital in the town of Kafr Hamra had killed two staff members, including a nurse. The town is near the northern front line in the city of Aleppo, where government troops have sealed the main route into opposition areas. Some 300,000 residents are blocked inside.

The attack on the Urem al-Kubra market killed at least six people according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The town lies on the road linking Aleppo to the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib.

At least 10 people, including women and children, were reported killed in the village of Hayan in the northern Aleppo countryside.

Damage in the Meshed area of Aleppo

Damage in the Meshed area of Aleppo

Positioning for peace talks?

A spokeswoman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said on Friday that the airstrikes and attacks on eastern Aleppo had compelled moderate rebels to cooperate with more radical groups.

Bassma Kodmani, a member of and spokeswoman for the HNC, said a cessation of hostilities would allow the HNC and the opposition to see that moderate groups could "organize life, communities and security."

"The more radical groups would be marginalized because their value resides in their firepower. Instead, what we saw was exactly the opposite," Kodmani said in an interview with the Reuters news agency. "The moderate groups [were left] with no choice but to join forces with those who can, together, lead an offensive of some significance."

She was dismissive of the Russian offer a three-hour pause in fighting to allow humanitarian aid into the city: "The purpose of the humanitarian corridors was to evacuate people, to force people to get out. It was basically: 'Leave the city or be bombed.' It was not about bringing relief into the eastern part of the city," Kodmani said.

jm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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