US, Germany restart Syria no-fly zone debate

US, Germany restart Syria no-fly zone debate

US, Germany restart Syria no-fly zone debate

AFP photo

Debate over founding a no-fly zone in Syria, an idea Turkey has long been pushing for, has heated up with U.S. and German foreign ministers calling for Russia and the Syrian government to immediately halt flights over Syrian battle zones in order to salvage a collapsing cease-fire.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry faced off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the U.N. Security Council in New York, during a tense televised showdown, saying the bombing of an aid convoy in Syria raised “profound doubt whether Russia and the Assad regime can or will live up to” ceasefire obligations. 

“To restore credibility to the process we must move forward to try to immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded,” Kerry said. 

The key areas are places where humanitarian aid needs to be delivered and where Syrian government forces have been accused of targeting civilians. 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Sept. 22has also called for a temporary ban of military flights in Syria of up to seven days. 

“The situation in Syria is now on a knife edge,” Steinmeier said according to a statement tweeted by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Sept. 22. 

“If the ceasefire is to stand any chance [of succeeding],  the only path is a temporary, but complete ban of all military aircraft movement in Syria - for at least three days, better would be seven days,” Steinmeier said. 

Turkey has long argued for the need for a “no-fly” or “safe zone” zone along its Syrian border, with the aim of clearing out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants and stemming a wave of migration that has fuelled tensions in Europe. 

But Western allies have so far balked at the idea, saying it would require a significant ground force and planes to patrol, marking a major commitment in such a crowded battlefield.

Addressing the head of states at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed his request for a no-fly zone over the border area between Turkey and Syria. 

Speaking before Kerry, Lavrov told the 15-member Security Council: “One needs to refrain from emotional instincts, from rushing to the microphone immediately to comment on something; a probe should be conducted [into the aid convoy attack.]” 

Listening to Lavrov made him feel like he was living in a “parallel universe,” Kerry said. 

The aim of the cease-fire deal between the United States and Russia, which took effect on Sept. 12, is to facilitate aid access to besieged areas and allow the pair to jointly target jihadists. 

U.N. Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy said it was possible that countries backing the Syria peace process would agree on Sept. 22 to salvage a collapsed cease-fire, and that it was still working to restart peace talks within weeks. 

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half of Syria’s 22 million people have been uprooted since a crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 sparked a civil war. ISIL militants used the chaos to seize territory. 

Before a meeting of the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) that was scheduled to take place late Sept. 22 in New York, and after the U.N. Security Council face-off, Kerry and Lavrov talked first by telephone “at the initiative of the Americans” and then met in person, accompanied by their delegations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. 

US denies Russia’s drone allegations

Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Sept. 21 strongly denied Russia’s claim that a U.S.-led coalition Predator drone was in the air over an aid convoy in Syria when it was attacked.

“None of our aircraft - manned or unmanned, U.S. or coalition - were anywhere in the vicinity of Aleppo when the strike against the humanitarian convoy occurred,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.

Trucks carrying food and medical equipment from the United Nations and other agencies were unloading aid into a warehouse in Orum al-Kubra, a town in Aleppo province, when a deadly attack killed around 20 civilians late Sept. 19.

The Pentagon remarks came after Russia had insinuated that the coalition drone may have been involved in the strike. Moscow released the aircraft’s purported air speed and altitude as well as its location over Orum al-Kubra shortly before the strike.   

Earlier on Sept. 21, U.S. officials told AFP that two Russian SU-24 warplanes were operating in the area where the aid convoy was struck, and one of them was directly above the convoy when it was hit.  

Russia to dispatch aircraft carrier to Med Sea

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Sept. 21 that Moscow was dispatching its flagship aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to bolster its forces in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria.

Huge blazes erupted in Syria’s Aleppo as the city was rocked by fighting and air strikes on Sept. 22, ahead of last-ditch efforts by world powers to salvage a failed cease-fire.

Heavy clashes gripped the outskirts of Aleppo, after air strikes triggered major fires across the city’s devastated rebel-held districts.

An AFP correspondent in the eastern Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood reported that his entire street was in flames following the pre-dawn strikes.

Volunteer firefighters battled throughout the night to contain the blazes, which local activists at the Aleppo Media Centre said were caused by “incendiary phosphorous bombs.”  

More than 120 rebels and dozens of their relatives on Sept. 22 left the last rebel-held district of Syria’s Homs city under a deal with the regime, the governor said.  The group was the second wave of fighters to leave the Waer neighborhood under an agreement reached between opposition and government forces in December 2015.

The U.N. appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups on Sept. 21 to allow aid convoys to enter eastern Aleppo as U.N. relief operations in Syria resumed after a 48-hour suspension due to a deadly attack. 

A U.N. convoy loaded with medical and other supplies was heading to the rebel-held besieged Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya. The U.N hopes to send others to besieged areas in Idlib and near the Lebanese border in coming days.