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Leaks about Russian Plan to Empty Aleppo amid International Warning of ‘War Crimes’ | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Syrian man walks past a bus set ablaze following a reported air strike in the rebel-held Salaheddin district of Aleppo on September 25, 2016. Ameer Alhalbi (AFP)

Beirut, New York-At a time when the city of Aleppo was witnessing the fiercest Russian and Syrian regime air assault following the collapse of the ceasefire, Western states lashed out at Moscow with strong accusations during Sunday’s emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Syria.

A week following failed negotiations aimed at reviving a ceasefire in the country, the U.N. Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the U.S., France and Britain.

The three states are working to stop the air offensive launched by Russia and the Syrian regime on Aleppo last week with an attempt to retake the eastern suburbs of the city, currently under the control of armed opposition factions.

During the emergency meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault launched a fierce attack against Russia and Iran, saying both countries “will be complicit in war crimes committed in Aleppo” if they continue their strategy leading to the ‘deadlock’ in Syria crisis.

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told BBC that Russia might have committed a war crime in Syria if it was behind an attack on an aid convoy near Aleppo.

AFP quoted U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power as telling the Council: “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism.”

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said: “War crimes are being committed here in Aleppo,” and called for action to ensure the atrocities do not go unpunished.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the international community might refer to the International Criminal Court in light of the clear violations of international laws committed in Aleppo.

The Council had tried to refer to this court before, but Russia had vetoed the decision.

Also, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world powers to “work harder for an end to the nightmare” in Syria.

However, Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin admitted that the surge in violence over the past days meant that “bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now.”

U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura denied rumors saying he would resign from his post. “Any sign of me resigning would be a signal that the international community is abandoning the Syrians, and we will not abandon the Syrians, and neither will you,” he told the Council.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition announced that “Russia had informed Western parties, including the U.S., about its plan to empty Aleppo from its residents during the upcoming two weeks, which means that Moscow has decided to terminate the military operation in a bloody way.”

Member of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmad Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat: “In the presence of such a decision, the opposition does not anymore rely on negotiations that would lead to nowhere, or on an unprotected political operation, or on an international community incapable of protecting civilians and punishing the murderers.”

On Sunday, chief coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab and Anas al-Abda, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, have both interrupted their visits to the U.S. following the military escalation in Aleppo.

A meeting of the SNC and the Free Syrian Army was also held in Istanbul on Sunday.

“Russia can no longer be a sponsor of the negotiations process because it is a partner to the regime’s crimes against our people,” participants said in a statement.