UN aid convoy enters besieged Damascus suburb

Dozens of trucks laden with humanitarian aid Wednesday entered a besieged Damascus suburb, UN sources and state media said.

State news agency SANA said 35 trucks had entered the town, a day after UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to press for humanitarian access as well as steps towards a ceasefire.

The area has been under siege from government forces since 2012.

UN sources said aid convoys also left central Damascus in the afternoon for two besieged towns near the Lebanese border.

There was no word from the UN as to progress on a truce scheduled to take effect on Friday.

World powers meeting in Munich last week proposed a nationwide cessation of hostilities, except for those targeting terrorist groups.

However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday said he did not think the necessary conditions could be met within a week.

In a further sign that the truce might not be going into effect as planned, the UN said a press conference by de Mistura would be postponed from Friday to the following Monday.

Wednesday saw civilians once more falling victim to air campaigns in Syria, with a monitoring group reporting that 15 were killed when US-led forces hit a bakery in an Islamic State-held town in the north-east.

The bombs hit as civilians were lining up at the bakery in Shaddadi at dawn, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said the strikes in Shaddadi coincided with an attack launched by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) against Islamic State in the area.

The town lies south of the main Kurdish stronghold in north-eastern Syria's al-Hassakeh province.

The YPG has been the main force pushing back the jihadists across northern Syria, aided by an intense US-led air campaign.

The strike came as a medical charity raised the death toll from an apparently Russian airstrike on a hospital south of Aleppo on Monday to 25.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the dead included nine hospital staff and 16 patients, and another 10 staff were wounded.

The MSF-supported hospital in Maarat al-Nuaman was completely destroyed in the strike, one of a number of air raids that day which, according to the UN, put seven hospitals out of action.

Turkey and France have both accused Russia of committing war crimes in the strikes.

Moscow on Wednesday all but dismissed a proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a no-fly zone in part of Syria.

Any decision to create a no-fly zone over Syria could not be made without the approval of the government in Damascus as well as the UN Security Council, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

Merkel stuck to her suggestion, telling German lawmakers a no-fly zone would be "a sign of good will."

"It would be calming to many if there were no more deaths in Aleppo and in the Turkish border region and people were no longer forced to flee," the German chancellor said.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the Russian airstrikes and accompanying government offensive around the northern city of Aleppo, which led to the collapse of peace talks in Geneva earlier this month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile said his military would continue to strike at the YPG in Aleppo province, where the Kurds have taken advantage of the Russian air campaign to advance against rebel forces.

Erdogan charged that the Kurds had attacked Turkey and repeated his call to the United States to choose between Turkey and the YPG.

Kurdish reports from Aleppo say Turkey has been shelling YPG positions since the weekend but claim the Syrian militia has never attacked Turkey.

Turkey, as well as the US, support rebel forces in northern Syria who are caught between the Kurds, regime forces and Islamic State.

Erdogan also lashed out at the links between the YPG and the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey.

Analysts say the Kurds are hoping to advance from their enclave of Efrin, north-west of Aleppo, and connect it with their main territory in northern and north-eastern Syria.

That would deal a serious blow to Islamic State, which holds most of the intervening territory, but it would also cement Kurdish control of the Syrian-Turkish border, a prospect which is highly unwelcome to Ankara.

Last update: Wed, 17/02/2016 - 18:39
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