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Macron, Merkel To Hold Talks With Putin On Syria Cease-Fire

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to speak to Russia's Vladimir Putin on February 25.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to speak to Russia's Vladimir Putin on February 25.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are set to hold talks on February 25 with Russian leader Vladimir Putin over implementation of a 30-day United Nations cease-fire in Syria, the French presidency says.

The talks were announced after the Security Council on February 24 unanimously voted for the cease-fire in war-torn Syria.

Macron’s office said the discussions will focus on the "implementation of this resolution and on the political roadmap needed to achieve lasting peace in Syria."

Amid reports of continued fighting, UN chief Antonio Guterres on February 24 called on all parties to implement the cease-fire “immediately" and that it be “sustained.”

A UN spokesman quoted Guterres as saying an immediate truce was is necessary “particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded, and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people."

All 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of a cessation of hostilities following a flurry of last-minute negotiations on the text, as Moscow had opposed setting a deadline for the truce to take effect.

Reports said the sponsors of the resolution, Kuwait and Sweden, amended the text to get Russian support, dropping a demand that the truce take effect in 72 hours and stating “without delay” instead. Moscow, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has veto power on the Security Council.

Macron and Merkel on February 23 had urged Putin to support the proposal for a cease-fire.

Calls for a quick implementation of the truce came amid reports by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that warplanes had hit eastern Ghouta in Syria, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens, minutes after the Security Council adopted the resolution.

According to activists, Syrian government forces have killed more than 500 civilians during a week of intense bombardment in eastern Ghouta, the rebel-held enclave near the capital, Damascus.

Turkey said it welcomed the cease-fire resolution but said its military would continue to fight "terrorist organizations" that threaten Syria's territorial integrity.

Turkey last month launched an air-and-land military operation in the Kurdish-held enclave Afrin in northern Syria. Ankara says the main U.S.-allied Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, is a terrorist group that threatens Syria's territorial integrity.

The UN spokesman said Guterres reminded all sides of their "absolute obligation" to protect civilians. "Efforts to combat terrorism do not supersede these obligation," he said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told Reuters that “we accept that it might take a number of hours before it can all be fully implemented...we just have to keep the pressure up, implementation is key now."

The cease-fire was welcomed by the two major rebel factions in Ghouta who pledged to protect aid convoys that come into the besieged enclave, Reuters news agency reported. There was no immediate reaction from Damascus.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called for the truce to be implemented immediately, but also expressed skepticism that the Damascus government would "allow humanitarian access to all of those who need it."

Russia's UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya had said the ceasefire would not be possible without agreements between warring factions.

The vote had been postponed several times since February 22, with Western diplomats accusing Moscow of stalling for time.

Nebenzya has repeatedly argued that an immediate cease-fire was unrealistic. He also said the media and Western nations were conducting a "misinformation campaign" about the fighting in Ghouta and were ignoring what he called the "inconvenient truth" that several thousand Islamist fighters reside were still present in the region.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the 7-year-old war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protests. Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor by a launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

There has been a growing outcry from Western capitals, the United Nations, and humanitarian groups over the situation in Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called "hell on Earth."

The UN says nearly 400,000 people live in the region, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege for more than four years.

More than 2,400 people were said to have been injured there since government forces and their allies escalated their offensive on the Damascus suburb on February 18. Ten hospital and medical centers have reportedly been knocked out of service due to the bombardment.

Meanwhile, Syrian state media said rebels in Ghouta have killed at least 16 civilians in eastern districts of the city over the past week.

At a news conference at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump on February 23 accused Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government of being responsible for a "humanitarian disgrace" in Syria.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa