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SYRIA

France considers ‘humanitarian corridors’ in Syria

France will discuss creating protected humanitarian corridors in Syria with its EU and Arab allies, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said on Thursday, after meeting the exiled Syrian opposition leader.

Juppé said France considers Burhan Ghaliun’s Syrian National Council a “legitimate interlocutor” and said he would take to Brussels the idea of escape routes for Syrian civilians fleeing Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

“We examined the question of humanitarian corridors and I will ask the next meeting of the European Council to put this point on its agenda,” Juppé said.

“If there could be a humanitarian dimension to the zones, which could be secured, to protect the population, that’s a question that must be studied with the European Union and the Arab League.”

There have been reports that Turkey and NATO allies such as France are considering imposing a no-fly zone and a buffer zone on Syrian territory to give the opposition breathing space while it organises its revolt. 

No official source has gone this far, however, and Juppé’s statement was the first sign that something of the sort might be envisaged.

“The Syrian National Council is the legitimate interlocutor, and we will continue to work with it,” Juppé said, stopping short of formally recognizing the body and stressing that it must be inclusive.

“We are working on a formal recognition with the Arab League and all of our allies,” Juppé said.

The SNC headed by Paris-based Ghaliun is one of at least four Syrian opposition movements, but is seen as the most representative and claims to speak for activists both inside and outside the country.

Speaking to reporters after the joint news conference, Ghaliun said the SNC did not want to see the fledgling Free Syrian Army, an armed rebel group, take the fight directly to the regime’s far superior forces.

“We would like this army to carry out defensive actions to protect those who have left the (regime’s) army and peaceful demonstrations, but not take on offensive actions against the army,” he said.

In recent weeks there have been increasing reports that a rebel army has begun fighting Assad’s regime in parallel to a largely peaceful street revolt that has faced brutal repression from regular forces.

This has increased fears the nine-month old revolt against the regime is slipping towards civil war. Four more civilians were killed on Wednesday, in a conflict which the United Nations says has claimed more than 3,500 lives.

Syria’s northern neighbour Turkey warned, meanwhile, that the crisis was at “the point of no return” amid a growing chorus of international anger over the eight-month crackdown on dissent.

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SYRIA

French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
   
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
   
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
 
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
   
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
   
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
   
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
   
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
   
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.
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