The US has accused Moscow of complicity in civilian deaths in Syria's besieged eastern Ghouta region. In a statement, the White House said Russian aircraft had flown bombing missions in defiance of a UN ceasefire.
The United States said Sunday that Russian military aircraft had conducted at least 20 daily bombing missions in Damascus and eastern Ghouta between February 24 and February 28. It is the strongest accusation to date of Moscow's complicity in civilian deaths in Syria's besieged eastern Ghouta region.
"Russia has gone on to ignore [the UN ceasefire's] terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations," said a statement from the White House. "This is the same combination of lies and indiscriminate force that Russia and the Syrian regime used to isolate and destroy Aleppo in 2016, where thousands of civilians were killed."
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said he will continue with the military offensive near the capital in rebel-held territory.
Assad spoke to a small group of reporters in Damascus on Sunday and said the five-hour daily "humanitarian pause" in eastern Ghouta would continue so that any civilians who wanted to leave could do so.
Assad also denied that the Syrian government had carried out toxic gas attacks, describing such reports as part of the West's "dictionary of lies."
'Scorched earth policy'
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had regained control of at least one town and fighting continued.
The Observatory and the Syrian Civil Defense said civilians had fled their homes because of the advancing troops, with many of them were taking cover in underground shelters. "It is a scorched-earth policy," Ghouta-based activist Nour Adam told The Associated Press. "People are moving out because of the relentless bombing."
Russia has accused the rebels of preventing civilians from leaving, which insurgents have denied. The rebels said the humanitarian corridor is part of government efforts to forcibly displace the population. They also called on government forces to implement a full ceasefire adopted by the UN Security Council.
Macron urges Iran to pressure Syria
Also Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron "strongly urged" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to pressure the Syrian government to end "the indiscriminate attacks against the besieged populations of eastern Ghouta, to allow humanitarian access and evacuate the critical medical cases."
In a statement, Macron's office said the president and Rouhani had agreed to work together in the coming days to deliver the necessary assistance to civilians and implement the UN-sponsored ceasefire. Macron made the plea to Rouhani because of the "links" between Iran and the Syrian government, said the French statement.
av/cmk (Reuters, AFP)