Posts Tagged ‘Emmanuel Macron’

Employee at French Consulate in Jerusalem Admits to Smuggling Weapons From Gaza to West Bank

March 19, 2018


Case was reported on extensively in French press but a gag order was imposed on coverage of it in Israel – even though relevant agencies had already worked on press releases

A 24-year-old employee at the French Consulate in Jerusalem admitted that he smuggled dozens of weapons from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank through diplomatic vehicles, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Sunday. Israeli security sources have confirmed the existence of the case.

The employee was a driver and carried an official passport. He was detained for questioning by Israeli security authorities on February 19. A security guard at the embassy was also arrested. The two will stand trial on Monday, most likely in a Be’er Sheva court, for smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank.

 French Consulate in Jerusalem

The case was reported on extensively on Sunday in the French press but a gag order was imposed on coverage of it in Israel, even though the relevant agencies in Israel, including the Shin Bet security service and the Foreign Ministry, had already worked on a press release on matter.

This is not the first time that a security-related case has been banned from publication while it was reported on extensively abroad.

One high-profile example was the case of a man identified as Prisoner X on an Australian website, which was only reported later in Israel following the lifting of the gag order.

The French Embassy issued a statement saying: “The authorities in France are taking the incident in which one if the workers at the consulate general of France in Jerusalem is a suspect with very great seriousness. The authorities in France are cooperating with Israeli authorities.”

Israeli diplomatic officials called the matter “a very difficult event, which we take very seriously.” They added that relations with France are excellent and this will not have an adverse effect, thanking French authorities for their cooperation.

The affair takes place days before French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is slated to arrive in Israel, amid the backdrop of a potential visit from French President Emmanuel Macron later this fall. This affair may overshadow the visit.


France toughens talk on Turkish Syria operation — Francois Hollande pressures Macron — It is not right to let entire populations die

March 13, 2018


March 13, 2018, at 1:07 p.m.

Under Pressure, France Toughens Talk on Turkish Syria Operation

People ride on trucks with their belongings in north-east Afrin, Syria March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in the Afrin region was not justified, the strongest language yet from Paris regarding its NATO ally’s intervention in Syria.

The French government has faced growing criticism at home over its response to developments in northern Syria where Turkey launched its operation“Olive Branch” nearly two months ago to sweep Syrian Kurdish YPG militants from the border.

“While concerns over border security are legitimate… at the same time … It must be said that it absolutely does not justify the deep incursion of Turkish troops in the Afrin zone,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers in parliament.

“The situation is critical and serious,” he said, adding that Paris feared the Turkish operation was also weakening the action against Islamic State militants.

France, like the United States, has extended arms and training to a YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, and also has dozens of special forces based in the region. That has infuriated Turkey, which considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Former president Francois Hollande, who originally gave the green light for French support to the Kurds, on Monday bemoaned incumbent Emmanuel Macron’s Syria policy, in particular his attitude to the Kurds.

“If I supported the Kurds as part of the coalition, it is not to leave them in the situation they are in,” he told Le Monde.“It is not possible to celebrate the liberation of part of Syria and let entire populations die when we know the role they played in getting that result.”

Turkey’s military and rebel allies have encircled Afrin, its military said on Tuesday, a substantial advance in its campaign.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization that reports on the war, said an estimated 700,000 people in Afrin and nearby were now encircled.

“The main reason for our determination on this subject is that we have a very old relationship with the Kurds and we recognize the vital role they played in retaking Raqqa,” Le Drian said, referring to Islamic State’s former Syria bastion.

Reporting by John Irish, Editing by William Maclean

Emmanuel Macron wants France to replace Britain as India’s ‘gateway to Europe’

March 10, 2018

On his first official visit to India, President Macron said he wants France to be India’s foremost partner in Europe. Trade, security and climate change were high on the agenda during talks between Macron and India’s PM.

French President Macron meets Indian PM Modi in New Delhi

French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have pledged to work together following talks in New Delhi on Saturday.

Macron, who arrived in the Indian capital on Friday, said France and India should be key partners.

“I hope this visit will open a new era for this strategic partnership,” Macron added Saturday.

Read more: France’s Macron seeks closer India ties amid global uncertainty

‘Entry point to Europe’

The French leader expressed his desire to make his country “India’s best partner in Europe,” replacing Britain as India’s “gateway to Europe.”

“Your historical partner in Europe was the United Kingdom, and I want France to become the new partner,” Macron told Indian media.

“The first [objective of my visit] is to seal for the decade to come a strong pact around collective security in the region between our two democracies,” Macron emphasized.

Read more: New France-India military aerospace joint venture

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens France and Germany are increasingly worried about China’s ‘agressive’ behavior in the Indian Ocean

Security, trade and climate

India and France are set to sign a deal to increase naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean where China has been flexing its military might. According to Indian media, France could announce plans to let the Indian navy use its bases in the southern Indian Ocean.

“European powers such as France and Germany are increasingly worried about China’s behavior. They would like greater stability and some balance in Asia, and therefore see India as a possible partner in this endeavor,” Rajesh Rajagopan, a New Delhi-based professor of international politics, told DW.

Trade between India and France in 2016-17 touched $10.95 billion (€8.9 billion), with France listed as the ninth largest foreign investor in India with a cumulative investment of over $6 billion (€4.87 billion) from April 2000 to October 2017, according to Indian government figures. The investments span various sectors, including defense, automobiles, aviation and pharmacy.

On Sunday, Modi and Macron will co-chair the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The ISA was a flagship Indian initiative launched by Modi and former French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

Read more: Despite Trump climate turmoil, India’s PM Modi reaffirms Paris pact during France visit

Personal rapport

After his arrival in India, Macron also talked about his personal relations with Indian PM Modi.

“I think we have a very good chemistry. Our two great democracies have a historic relationship,” the French president said.

In a tweet on Friday, Modi welcomed Macron to India, saying: “Your visit will add great strength to the strategic partnership between India and France.” Modi also shared his photos with the French president.


View image on Twitter

Welcome to India, President @EmmanuelMacron! Your visit will add great strength to the strategic partnership between India and France. I look forward to our talks tomorrow.

EU, Japan seek clarity from crunch US trade talks

March 10, 2018


© AFP / by Alex PIGMAN | Japan’s Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko was also in Brussels for the talks
BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU and Japan held crunch talks with their US counterparts in Brussels on Saturday hoping to get “clarity” on President Donald Trump’s controversial new steel and aluminium tariffs.

Trump’s announcement of duties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium has stung the European Union and triggered warnings of an all-out international trade war.

Brussels has prepared a list of US products to hit with countermeasures if its exports are affected by the tariffs, but says it hopes to join Canada and Mexico in being exempted. Japan has decried the “grave impact” the Trump measures could have on the world economy.

The EU’s top trade official Cecilia Malmstroem and Japanese Economy Minister Hiroshige Seko began preliminary talks in Brussels ahead of the sitdown with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The talks, initially set to address China’s over-supply of steel, have long been in the diary but after Trump’s dramatic announcement they are now a de facto crisis meeting.

“Dialogue is always the prime option of the European Union,” Malmstroem told reporters on Friday, saying Brussels was “counting on being excluded” from the new duties.

She predicted a “long day” of talks on Saturday, while European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen sought to play down expectations, saying it was “a meeting, not THE meeting”.

Katainen said Brussels wanted “clarity” on how the tariffs will be implemented and was ready to enforce retaliatory measures to protect European interests if needed.

“We are prepared and will be prepared if need be to use rebalancing measures,” Katainen said.

– US ‘affront’ –

Along with a huge range of steel products, the EU’s hit list of flagship American products lined up for counter measures includes peanut butter, bourbon whiskey and denim jeans.

Germany — singled out for particular criticism by Trump — accused Washington of protectionism, calling the tariffs an “affront to close partners”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged dialogue and warned that “no one can win in such a race to the bottom”.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday warned his US counterpart Trump against forging ahead with the planned tariffs, saying they risked provoking a mutually destructive “trade war”.

Trump said the tariffs, which will come into effect after 15 days, will not initially apply to Canada and Mexico. He also added Australia to the list of likely carve-outs.

Complicating matters, Trump indicated on Friday that Australia’s carveout was linked to an unspecified “security agreement” outside of trade policy.

This shed some light on the tycoon’s specific barbs against Germany — the biggest economy in the European Union — that have finger-pointed Berlin for contributing much less than the US towards the funding of NATO.

The EU exports around five billion euros’ ($4 billion) worth of steel and a billion euros’ worth of aluminium to the US each year, and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, estimates Trump’s tariffs could cost some 2.8 billion euros.

Brussels is also looking at “safeguard” measures to protect its industry — restricting the bloc’s imports of steel and aluminium to stop foreign supplies flooding the European market, which is allowed under World Trade Organization rules.

The EU and Japan last year formally agreed the broad outlines of a landmark trade deal that was announced as a direct challenge to the protectionism championed by Trump.

by Alex PIGMAN

EU Ready To Respond If U.S. Starts Trade War

March 7, 2018


© AFP / by Clément ZAMPA | Trump’s planned tariffs on steel and aluminium have triggered fears of a trade war

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU will Wednesday set out plans to strike back against US President Donald Trump’s threatened steel and aluminium tariffs, with flagship US products such as jeans, motorbikes and whiskey in the crosshairs.The blow by Brussels will land hours after Trump’s trade offensive brought the resignation of his top economic advisor Gary Cohn, an influential ex-Goldman Sachs banker who fiercely opposed the measures.

No official decision by the EU is expected as Trump has yet to sign into effect his plan to set tariffs for what he calls unfair competition for US industry, but French President Emmanuel Macron has demanded Europe be ready to act swiftly if he does.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday threatened to hit big-name US brands such as Harley Davidson motorbikes, Levi’s jeans and bourbon whiskey with import duties.

This prompted Trump to fire back a threat to tax cars from the EU, further fuelling fears of a full-on transatlantic trade war erupting.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and suit

  Jean-Claude Juncker

“We are looking at possibilities to retaliate, meaning that we will also put taxes or tariffs on US imports to the European Union,” EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the BBC on Monday.

Despite Juncker’s headline-grabbing threat to iconic US brands, the hitlist the EU is working on does not mention specific businesses, using instead the dry language of customs regulations.

Malmstrom said the EU was also looking at “safeguard” measures to protect its industry — restricting the bloc’s imports of steel and aluminium to stop foreign supplies flooding the European market, which is allowed under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Trump, elected on a promise to roll back the effects of globalisation on the US economy with an “America First” platform, said Thursday he planned to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminium.

Juncker, who on Wednesday met Lakshmi Mittal, the boss of the world’s top steelmaker ArcelorMittal, said last week the EU would “react firmly” to protect European industry.

– Customs hitlist –

Europe exports around five billion euros’ ($4 billion) worth of steel and a billion euros’ worth of aluminium to the US each year, and the commission estimates Trump’s tariffs could cost some 2.8 billion euros.

As well as making it harder for European metal to find buyers in the US, tariffs could also mean other foreign producers redirect their output to the EU, pushing the market there down.

The first option envisaged by Brussels consists of “rebalancing” measures to compensate the value of the damage suffered, which it says would be in line with WTO rules.

This would mean taxing certain specific US products to send a political message to Trump — possibly targeting businesses located in states favourable to the president. It would take around three months for these measures to come into effect.

Brussels wants to maximise the political impact of its reprisals on the US while minimising the impact of a trade war on European consumers.

European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told AFP on Friday the bloc could form a “coalition of like-minded countries” to file a complaint at the WTO, though this procedure usually takes around two years.

by Clément ZAMPA

Italy’s Populists Make Rival Claims to Lead the Next Government

March 5, 2018


By Lorenzo Totaro and Thomas Gualtieri

 Updated on 
  • Five Star and the League both say they have right to govern
  • Mainstream parties slide to leave Italy facing gridlock
Italy is split on Europe, says Instituto Affari Internazionali Director Nathalie Tocci.

Italy’s populist parties both claimed the right to lead the next government after Sunday’s election as parliamentary gridlock promised weeks or months of negotiations and maybe even a repeat vote.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement was on track to be the biggest single party while a center-right coalition led by the anti-migrant League will be the largest group overall. Neither leader has a majority. Both claimed to have a mandate.

Matteo Salvini on March 5.

Photographer: Luca Bruno/AP Photos

“The center-right is the coalition that won, it’s the coalition that can govern,” the League’s Matteo Salvini said Monday in a televised press conference from Milan. Less than two hours later, Luigi Di Maio said it’s Five Star that has the right to lead and Salvini doesn’t have the votes.

After establishment parties managed to contain populists in German, French and Dutch elections over the past twelve months, their defenses were overwhelmed in Italy as voters rebelled against two decades of lackluster economic growth and a surge in immigration. The upshot is a far more unpredictable partner for European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron as they face the U.S. threat of a trade war while trying to reform the bloc.

With about 98 percent of votes counted, the center-right coalition had 37.3 percent of votes for the lower house. Within the bloc, the League had 17.6 percent and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia 14.1 percent. The Five Star Movement was the most-voted party with 32.4 percent.

Luigi Di Maio on March 5.

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

In his news conference Monday, Salvini repeated his dire predictions for the euro common currency and thanked French nationalist Marine Le Pen for her support during the campaign. He said Le Pen would have been a great president for her country if she’d won last year’s election.

Euro’s Future

“The common currency system is bound to come to an end,” Salvini, 44, said. “Not because Salvini wants that but because that’s what facts, good sense and the real economy say. So, we want to be prepared when the moment comes.”

Di Maio, 31, by contrast presented himself as an serious figure ready to take on the burden of government. “We feel the responsibility to give this country a government,”’ he said. “We say this above all to investors: we feel this responsibility.”

The governing Democratic Party got just 18.8 percent. PD leader Matteo Renzi is due to speak at about 5 p.m. in Rome while a spokesman denied reports he’s decided to resign.

“We risk being left behind by European train with the grand coalition in Berlin, with the obvious political leadership of Emmanuel Macron” in France, Sandro Gozi, Italy’s current junior minister for European affairs, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Francine Lacqua.

It’s up to President Sergio Mattarella to nominate a candidate for prime minister who he believes can win confidence votes in both houses. He isn’t due to begin formal consultations with party leaders until next month.

— With assistance by John Follain, Chiara Albanese, Marco Bertacche, Kevin Costelloe, and Alessandro Speciale


Europe’s Fragile Center Takes New Blows

March 5, 2018

Italian parliamentary vote, German coalition deal reflect populists’ advances, wider dissatisfaction with establishment

Dietmar Nietan, treasurer of Germany’s Social Democrats party, and SPD members look on as Olaf Scholz, interim SPD leader speaks about the decision to join a coalition government with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on March 4 at SPD headquarters in Berlin. Photo: john macdougall/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By Marcus Walker
The Wall Street Journal
March 4, 2018 7:35 p.m. ET

ROME—Europe’s months of electoral showdowns between mainstream and populist parties have ended with the establishment weakened in Germany and defeated in Italy—and trouble brewing for both countries.

A new bipartisan governing pact sealed Sunday in Germany could further fuel voter discontent with longtime incumbents in the European Union’s most important country, potentially sapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s authority in what is expected to be her final term.

Germany’s center-left Social Democrats said rank-and-file members had approved joining a coalition led by Ms. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats. The country is expected to have a new government by mid-March, ending an unprecedented political paralysis since September’s national elections, when a fragmented vote exposed a decline in support for traditional parties.

Meanwhile antiestablishment, EU-skeptic parties won about half the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Italy, leaving the shape of the next government murky. Backlashes against immigration, the euro’s fiscal constraints and politicians decried as corrupt boosted support for populists such as the antiestablishment 5 Star Movement and the right-wing Lega.

A populist-led government appeared possible, albeit politically challenging, given the 5 Star’s strong performance. Lengthy wrangling is expected.

The weekend’s events capped a year of elections in which the EU’s broadly centrist governing establishment faced its strongest-ever challenges from insurgent movements, ranging from far-right nationalists to far-left anticapitalists. The outcome: The center’s hold is slipping, and its enemies are here to stay.

At stake is the survival of Europe’s order since the end of the Cold War, based on steadily deeper economic and political integration among liberal democracies ruled by pragmatic, postideological elites. That model faces challenges from the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU, along with authoritarian tendencies in some of the EU’s eastern members such as Hungary and Poland. The assumption of power by nationalists and other populists in the EU’s founder countries in Western Europe would greatly increase those centrifugal pressures.

Whether Europe’s insurgents grow stronger in coming years, and how much pressure they put on the EU’s cohesion, depends in large part on whether mainstream politicians can win back ordinary Europeans’ trust. That would require tackling issues such as economic inequality and the stifled opportunities for young people, barely controlled immigration that is spreading fears about security and cultural identity, and a pervasive perception that technocratic elites are offering voters little choice, hollowing out democracy.

The battle also hinges on how well Europe heals from the economic and migration crises of recent years, which did much to inflame popular discontent. A belated but spreading economic recovery is one source of hope for the establishment. So, too, are stronger efforts to tighten immigration policies. Mainstream conservatives in countries such as Austria, the Netherlands and Germany have sought to stem the influx of people from Europe’s poor and war-ravaged neighboring continents that was proving politically destabilizing.


  • No Winner Emerges in Italy Election
  • What Happens Next After Italian Vote
  • Merkel’s Fourth Term Likely Her Last as Chancellor
  • Europe’s Center Holds, but Just Barely
  • Stocks Weak as Markets Digest Italian Elections

“The center is shifting right in response to non-European immigration. The nation-state will take back some of its powers from the EU, notably control over borders,” said Josef Joffe, a senior fellow at Stanford University and publisher of German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. “As Europe shifts rightward, populism will be absorbed and contained.”

Others aren’t so sure. “Our mainstream politicians aren’t learning,” said Cas Mudde, a specialist on populism at the University of Georgia. Some think economic growth alone will save them, while others are betting on copying populists’ messages, he said.

Italian populist parties won close to 50% of the vote in Sunday’s elections according to exit polls. In 2008 elections, antiestablishment parties won barely 15%. Italy’s adherence to unpopular EU rules, including its curbs on budget deficits and on government aid for small savers when banks fail, could come under increasing pressure.

Whether Italy benefits or suffers more from the euro has become contested in this once staunchly pro-EU country, even though populist parties have lately backed away from demanding a referendum on the euro.

Those populist parties might be able to form a governing majority in Italy’s new parliament, depending on the final seat count. In practice, though, it is unclear whether the 5 Star Movement would be sufficiently willing to share power to entice others to cooperate.

Italy shows how populists can drive the national debate even in opposition. “They don’t need to win to force the mainstream onto the back foot, making them reactive,” said Wolf Piccoli of political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence in London.

Germany’s bipartisan coalition between Ms. Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats, or SPD, will be the third such pactsince 2005. Back then, the two long-dominant parties had around 70% of voters’ support. Now it has declined to barely 50% in recent opinion polls. Many people in both parties have strong reservations about the new governing pact because they fear it will strengthen the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, now Germany’s largest opposition party.

SPD members approved the coalition pact partly because they feared new elections would decimate the party, which is suffering a long-term decline along with many other moderate-left parties in Europe.

Many Christian Democrats aren’t happy either, blaming Ms. Merkel’s consensus-oriented, centrist style for alienating conservative voters. The discontent on the party’s right and September’s weak election result are likely to constrain Ms. Merkel’s authority in negotiating overhauls to the EU with France’s President Emmanuel Macron in coming months.

Mr. Macron is pushing for deeper integration and mutual economic support among eurozone countries. He swept France’s elections last year on a centrist, strongly pro-EU platform, defeating a nationalist, EU-skeptic opposition. EU elites greeted the French outcome with relief and enthusiasm.

France increasingly looks like Europe’s exception, however. The fragmented politics of Germany and Italy appear to be Europe’s new norm.

Write to Marcus Walker at


Apparent attack by Russian hackers penetrated Germany’s foreign ministry — “The German government strongly urged Russia to refrain from attacks.”

March 1, 2018


Image result for German foreign ministry, photos, eagle

Security experts discovered malware on the German foreign ministry’s network in December. The defense ministry may have been affected, too. (Michael Kappeler/Associated Press)
 February 28 at 5:51 PM
The Washington Post
 German officials said Wednesday that the government’s information technology networks had been infiltrated and that evidence pointed toward a Russian hacking group that’s been implicated in high-profile cyberattacks worldwide.The breach, acknowledged by the interior ministry in a statement, had been known since December, when security experts discovered malware in the secure computer networks of the foreign ministry, according to a senior German security official. German media outlets reported that the defense ministry also was affected.

The senior security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the record, said the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Federal Office for Information Security allowed the malicious program to keep running in recent months so they could monitor hacker activity. But no significant data was transmitted, according to the official. He said at some stage German officials decided to stop monitoring.

The official also said the country’s security agencies suspected that the Russian-linked hacking network known as APT28, or Fancy Bear, was behind the attack. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the hackers may have had access to German governmental networks for up to a year.

Fancy Bear has previously been connected to a range of cyberattacks, including one in which phishing and malware was used to infiltrate the U.S. Democratic National Committee before the 2016 presidential election, as well as the networks of Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign before last year’s French presidential election, according to the Tokyo-based cybersecurity research group Trend Micro.

The extent of damage in Germany, if any, was not made public. The interior ministry said in a statement that the breach was “isolated and brought under control.”

Still, the revelation that sensitive systems had been penetrated, with potential Russian fingerprints, represented a major breach just three years after suspected Russian hackers broke into the computer networks at the German parliament and made off with 16 gigabytes worth of data, enough for about a million emails. The information stolen in that attack has never been published.

If the Russian link is proved, it could mark a potential escalation in hostilities between Moscow and the West.

“If the details reported so far are accurate, this attack represents an unprecedented incident,” said Sven Herpig, Director for International Cyber Politics at Germany’s New Responsibility Foundation. “The prior hacking of the German parliament was also problematic, but it only lasted for a short period of time.”

He indicated that whoever was behind the latest attack must have assumed that it would eventually become public.

“Following the parliamentary breach, the German government strongly urged Russia to refrain from attacks,” Herpig said. “The likelihood that such incidents become public relatively quickly is high.”

Some experts believe Fancy Bear was also behind the cyberattack on the parliament, known as the Bundestag, though other experts say there’s not sufficient proof. German security officials publicly said they believed that attack was of Russian origin.

Mekhennet reported from Frankfurt, Noack from London and Beck from Berlin. Griff Witte contributed from Athens.


Syria’s Ghouta reels from strikes, clashes despite cease-fire call

February 26, 2018


Above, Syrian children fill plastic containers at a water pump in Arbin in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta. More than 500 people have been killed in a major bombing campaign by President Bashar Assad’s forces among the children. (AFP)
DOUMA, Syria: Desperate civilians trapped in one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria’s civil war awaited aid and medical help Monday after regime air strikes pounded rebel-held Eastern Ghouta despite UN cease-fire demands.
More than 500 people have been killed in a major bombing campaign by President Bashar Assad’s forces that has hammered the enclave on the edge of Damascus for over a week.
After days of diplomatic wrangling, the United Nations Security Council on Saturday adopted a resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria “without delay” to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
The resolution raised hopes of stemming the bloodshed, but after clashes continued on Sunday it was unclear when or how broadly the cease-fire would be implemented.
Russia is a key ally of Assad’s regime. In a phone call on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to reach a truce.
They called on Russia “to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting,” Merkel’s office said.
In Douma, the main town in Eastern Ghouta, fresh air raids and artillery strikes could be heard Sunday, an AFP correspondent said.
At least 14 civilians including three children were killed in strikes on Sunday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, bringing the total number of dead in the week to 530, among them over 130 children.
A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after a suspected chemical attack on Sunday in a Syrian rebel enclave under intense regime bombardment, said the Observatory and a medic who treated those affected.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports a hospital in the besieged area, posted pictures on Twitter of small children using breathing apparatus.
“We confirm that 16 patients, including 6 children & 4 women, suffering from symptoms indicative to exposure to chemical compounds were treated” at the facility, it said.
Russia’s defense ministry said “leaders of armed groups are preparing a provocation to use toxic substances to accuse the regime of using chemical weapons,” in a statement that also said the situation in Eastern Ghouta “continued to worsen.”
An aid worker in Douma, quoted by British charity Save the Children, said a brief pause in bombing had prompted people to emerge after a week sheltering in basements.
“Some people had no food to eat for two or three days,” the unnamed aid worker said.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said there appeared be fewer air strikes but that fighting had intensified on the ground.
Heavy clashes erupted in southern areas of Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 13 members of pro-regime forces and six fighters from the Jaish Al-Islam rebel group, he said.
The Britain-based group uses a network of sources across Syria to monitor the country’s conflict.
Mohamed Alloush, a key figure in Jaish Al-Islam, tweeted that the rebels were “resisting” bids by regime forces to enter the region.
Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, is surrounded by government-controlled territory and its residents are unwilling or unable to flee.
The two main rebel groups controlling the enclave — Jaish Al-Islam and Faylaq Al-Rahman — welcomed the Security Council demand, but vowed to fight back if there were renewed attacks.
UN diplomats say the resolution was watered down to ensure it was not vetoed by Russia, which has provided diplomatic and military support to Assad’s regime.
Language specifying that the cease-fire would start 72 hours after adoption was scrapped and the term “immediate” was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.
In another concession, the cease-fire would not apply to operations against the Daesh group or Al-Qaeda, along with “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with the groups.
Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate is present in Eastern Ghouta.
The head of the army in Iran, another key Assad ally, said the Syrian military would continue to target “terrorist groups” in Eastern Ghouta.
Assad’s regime and its allies routinely describe all opposition forces as “terrorists.”
“The zones on the periphery of Damascus … are not covered by the cease-fire and the offensives and clearing operations by the Syrian army will continue,” said Mohammad Bagheri, according to the official IRNA news agency.
UN chief Antonio Guterres, who has described Eastern Ghouta under the bombardment as “hell on Earth,” said the cease-fire must be “immediately” implemented.
In the enclave, news of the UN vote made little impact.
“I don’t think this decision will be implemented. It will be respected neither by the regime nor Russia,” said Douma resident Abu Mazen.
“We can’t trust Russia or the regime. We are used to their betrayals.”
Rebels in Eastern Ghouta have also been firing into Damascus.
Around 20 people have been killed in eastern districts of the capital since February 18, according to state media.
A total of more than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from the homes in Syria’s war, which next month enters its eighth year with no diplomatic solution in sight.

Putin, Macron and Merkel discuss Syria by phone: Kremlin — Syria continues to “Rain Down Hell” on Eastern Ghouta despite UN decision

February 25, 2018

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian crisis with his French and German counterparts, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, on Sunday, the Kremlin said.

 Image result for merkel, macron, putin, photos

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron meet during the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tobias SCHWARZ, Pool

The leaders, who spoke by phone, highlighted the importance of common efforts to implement a ceasefire called by the United Nations, the Kremlin said.