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U.S. Condemns Russia For 'Brutal' Complicity In Syrian Deaths

Syrian forces stand between portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The United States has lambasted Moscow for its "brutal" complicity in civilian deaths in Syria's rebel-held enclave in the eastern Ghouta region, accusing Russian aircraft of flying bombing missions in defiance of a United Nations cease-fire.

The White House remarks on March 4 represented some of the harshest comments directed toward Moscow for its support of President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria's nearly seven-year civil war.

"The United States condemns the ongoing military offensive that the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is perpetrating against the people of eastern Ghouta," the White House said.

The statement said Russian military aircraft launched from Humaymim Airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 bombing missions a day near Damascus and eastern Ghouta between February 24-28.

"Russia has gone on to ignore [a UN cease-fire's] terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counterterrorism operations," it said.

Earlier on March 4, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call that the Syrian government and its Russian backers bore responsibility for the "heart-breaking human suffering" in Ghouta, Downing Street said.

Assad said his forces will press on with their offensive against rebels in eastern Ghouta despite the international calls to end it.

Assad's comment was broadcast on state television on March 4 as Syria's military appeared to be advancing on several fronts in its operation to seize the besieged area just to the east of Damascus.

Violence in eastern Ghouta has left more than 600 people dead since government forces and their allies escalated their offensive on the Damascus suburb on February 18, according to activists.

Neither a local "humanitarian truce" ordered by Moscow, Syria's main ally, nor the call for a nationwide, 30-day cease-fire by the UN Security Council has led to any humanitarian relief for the embattled enclave, where some 393,000 people are trapped.

Referring to the daily five-hour truce, which the United States has dismissed as a "joke," Assad said there was "no contradiction between a truce and combat operations."

"The progress achieved yesterday and the day before in Ghouta by the Syrian Arab Army was made during this truce," he also said. "Therefore, we must continue with the operation in parallel with opening the way for civilians to leave."

Russia, along with Iran, has given Assad's government crucial support throughout the Syrian war, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests.

Moscow helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, to put the "necessary pressure" on the Syrian government to halt "indiscriminate" attacks on civilians in the enclave.

During a phone conversation, the French president underscored the "particular responsibility for Iran, because of its ties to the [Damascus] regime, regarding the implementation of the humanitarian truce" sought by the UN, his office said.

According to the Iranian presidency's website, Rohani told Macron that countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and its allies must answer for "war crimes" being committed in Yemen.

France is one of the biggest arms exporters to Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a military coalition backing the Yemeni internationally recognized government against Shi'ite Huthi rebels and their allies since 2015.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and the BBC