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France Calls Backers of Syrian Opposition to Meet on May 9 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault

In a step to revive diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the cessation of hostilities and breaking the military deadlock in Syria, France intends to invite ministers from countries that support Syrian opposition groups to a meeting in Paris on May 9, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.

“As Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has mentioned, he intends to organize a meeting of countries supporting the Syrian opposition on May 9. The meeting should include representatives of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – countries that consider it necessary to renew the Geneva talks at any cost,” French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said after a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Ayrault told reporters France had took this decision because there appeared no immediate prospect of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) convening to try to restore a ceasefire wrecked by an upsurge of fighting.

“We are fighting (to ensure) the ceasefire returns straight away and we would like the ISSG to meet. For now we have not got any agreement from the Americans or Russians who co-preside the group to hold this meeting,” he said.

“That’s the reason why I am going to invite like-minded countries to meet in Paris on Monday for a strong initiative to end the deadly bombings so that humanitarian aid can arrive effectively and that we can once again open the way to a political solution,” Ayrault said.

Other countries supporting non-jihadi opposition groups battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces include the United States, Turkey and European powers. They have all called on Assad to step down.

The first major ceasefire in Syria’s five-year civil war, brokered by the United States and Russia, had held since February but has virtually collapsed in recent weeks, with the city of Aleppo bearing the brunt of the renewed violence.

The ISSG comprises 17 countries and they include Russia and Iran, which support the Assad government.

A French diplomatic source said the ISSG could meet around May 17, but added that much would depend on whether a ceasefire across the country had been agreed beforehand to avoid clashes at any talks between major powers.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted on Wednesday as saying the ISSG could be convened in the coming weeks.

Ayrault is holding talks on Wednesday in Berlin with Germany’s foreign minister, senior British officials, the chief coordinator of the Syrian opposition, Riad Hijab, and the United Nations special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

At the start of talks, he said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government bore full responsibility for undermining the ceasefire in Aleppo.

“What is happening in Aleppo is a tragedy that requires a stronger reaction. It is a terrible drama that is happening there with victims, and the regime in Damascus bears full responsibility for what is happening and this means undermining the ceasefire, and goes all the way to destroying hospitals, killing women and children, civilians and doctors,” he said.

He reiterated his call for a meeting on Monday in France of 10 countries, including Arab states, involved in ceasefire talks, adding: “Everything must be done to get back to the ceasefire path.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, hosting the talks said every effort had to be made to de-escalate the situation in Syria and there was no military solution to the crisis.