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Macron urges Putin to help ease Syria crisis

February 9, 2018

More than 230 people have died this week in air raids on a rebel-held enclave in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. During a call with Putin, the French president expressed concern at the use of chlorine gas on civilians.

Syrian rescuers evacuating badly injured people following an airstrike
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Almohibany

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday called on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to help ease a dire humanitarian crisis in two rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta and Idlib in the northwest of Syria near the Turkish border.

The two areas have witnessed intense bombardment by Syrian forces this week resulting in hundreds of deaths. The escalating level of violence has prompted the United Nations to call for a ceasefire for at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.

Read more: Syria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want?

Macron urged Putin to "do everything" to ensure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army stops "intolerable degradation of the humanitarian situation" in the two besieged rebel areas, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Putin is a close Assad ally and is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over him.

The French president also pushed for more robust Syrian peace talks. A Russia-backed peace conference last month was boycotted by the main Syrian opposition group.

French President Macron pointing his finger during a speech
Macron called on Putin to pressure Assad into easing the dire humanitarian situation in SyriaImage: Getty Images/AFP/L. Marin

The Kremlin, in its statement after the call, said the two leaders discussed cooperating more closely to resolve the nearly eight-year-old conflict. It did not elaborate on the content of the call.

Read more: Syria civil war timeline: A summary of critical events

Chlorine bombs

Macron expressed his concerns at signs that that chlorine bombs may have been used multiple times against Syrian civilians in recent weeks.

The Syrian regime has consistently denied using chemical weapons.

Macron said France is determined to hold anyone who uses chemical weapons to account for possible war crimes.

A UN-mandated investigation team is probing "multiple" allegations of recent chemical weapons use in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib province.

Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

'Catastrophe' in Eastern Ghouta

Airstrikes continued to pound Eastern Ghouta for the fifth straight day on Friday, taking the death toll to over 230, many of them children.

"The people here have collapsed; people are seen talking to themselves in the streets. They don't know where to go," said Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman with the Civil Defence rescue service in the rebel pocket, whose population is estimated at 350,000. "We are living a catastrophe."

The Save the Children charity said children in the area were being "starved, bombed and trapped." It said 45 schools in the enclave had been attacked since the start of the year, with 11 completely destroyed.

The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and says it targets only militants.

ap/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)