France to push for war crimes investigations into Syria bombardments

France wants the bombardment of Syria's city of Aleppo to be investigated by the International Criminal Court as a war crime, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Monday.

"We, France, are going to get in touch with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to see which ways she can begin these investigations," Ayrault told France Inter radio.

"Who has carried out the bombardments? There are the Syrians, but also the Russians, who have come with their sophisticated weapons that allow them to penetrate down to bunkers where people are trying to protect themselves," Ayrault said.

UN officials and Western powers have in recent days expressed outrage at airstrikes that have hit hospitals, an aid convoy and other civilian targets in rebel-held areas of northern Syria, including the eastern part of Aleppo.

Also on Monday, the Syrian government hinted that it would be prepared to allow rebels holding out in eastern Aleppo to evacuate with their personal weapons to other opposition-held areas.

The proposal, attributed by the government's mouthpiece SANA news agency to a foreign ministry source, mirrors similar arrangements that have allowed the government to take control of rebel hold-outs in the central city of Homs and suburbs of Damascus after lengthy sieges.

The government had previously offered rebels in eastern Aleppo an amnesty and promised safe passage to civilians trapped in the area, but the UN has said security concerns and fears of arrest are preventing civilians from crossing the front lines.

Ayrault visited Moscow and Washington last week before a UN Security Council vote on two resolutions aimed at implementing a ceasefire in the besieged city. Both resolutions failed to pass.

One, drafted by France and Spain, failed to pass due to opposition from Russia and Venezuela, prompting Ayrault to say that the vote "demonstrated the isolation of Russia."

French President Francois Hollande was scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris next week, but rising tensions about the situation in Aleppo made continued diplomatic cooperation increasingly fraught. The US has already suspended its cooperation with Russia on Syria.

In response to questions about Putin's planned visit, Hollande said that he has considered whether the meeting will be useful for encouraging Russia to cease its support for the regime's air forces.

"If I receive him, I will tell him that it's unacceptable, that it is serious even for the image of Russia," Hollande said in an interview with broadcaster TMC that is scheduled to run on Monday night. He added that people living in the eastern part of Aleppo were victims of war crimes.

"Those that commit these acts will have to live up to the responsibility, including in front of the International Criminal Court," Hollande said.

During Ayrault's meeting in Washington last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry's said that, "Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities and children and women. These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the September shelling of two hospitals in Aleppo a war crime.

Russia has supported the Syrian government with a bombing campaign against rebel groups in the country for more than a year. The US and some Middle Eastern powers have backed certain rebel groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.

France is also part of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq. On Monday, Ayrault said that supporting the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad would support terrorism by proxy.

"It has to be said to Russia that if you are sincere in your fight against terrorism you cannot support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, because he basically promotes radicalization [...] The groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad become more radicalized and are pushed into the arms of jihadists," Ayrault told France Inter.

While global leaders continue to chafe at each other's proposals to end the half-decade-long conflict, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc is working to secure an agreement to bring humanitarian aid to people in war-torn Syria, including the city of Aleppo.

Along with UN agencies and international relief groups, the EU is seeking "to bring medical aid inside eastern Aleppo and allow medical evacuations of the wounded," Mogherini said during a visit to Stockholm.

"The European position is very clear: we would need a cessation of hostilities, we would need unhindered humanitarian access all over Syria," she said.

Last update: Mon, 10/10/2016 - 22:52

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