France worried by Syrian army offensive in Idlib, wants Astana deal respected

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2018 7:50 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday it was "extremely concerned" by a Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib and demanded that commitments made at an international deal in Astana to reduce hostilities be respected.

Nearly three million people are believed to be in the Idlib region, their numbers swelled by fighters and civilians who fled Syrian army advances elsewhere in the country.

"France condemns the intense bombardments carried out by the Bashar al-Assad regime's air force and its allies in the Idlib region in recent days, particularly those targeting the civilian population and several hospitals," France's foreign ministry said in a statement.

It added that deliberately targeting health centers constituted a violation of international law.

The Syrian army, supported by Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, began an offensive in late October in Hama province. By the end of last week, they had advanced into Idlib, close to an insurgent-held military airport.

The fighting and air strikes have forced more than 60,000 people to leave their homes since Nov. 1, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The area is part of a de-escalation zone agreement in the Kazakh capital Astana last year between Turkey, which supports rebel groups, and Assad allies Iran and Russia.

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"We ask that the commitments made in Astana be respected, so that the violence stops as soon as possible. Safe, comprehensive and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need must be ensured immediately," the ministry added.

It also said it was "outraged" by the ongoing siege in Eastern Ghouta, another rebel-held area, where the U.N. human rights chief said on Wednesday that at least 85 civilians have been killed since Dec. 31.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)