Minister in Moscow to try to mend Syria discord

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday was holding talks in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in an attempt to bridge disagreements over a new UN resolution on stripping Syria of its chemical arsenal.

Minister in Moscow to try to mend Syria discord
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) speaks with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius during their meeting in Moscow, on September 17, 2013. Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP

France has been pushing for a tough Security Council resolution and has blamed the Syrian government for the sarin attack on Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21.

Fabius, who met with British and American counterparts Monday, will send together with Britain a draft resolution which demands a threat of sanctions if President Bashar al-Assad does not comply with the disarmament plan agreed over the weekend in US-Russian talks.

However Lavrov on Monday said any resolution using threats was detrimental to Syria's chemical disarmament plan and to a long-term peace plan for the war-torn country, where 110,000 people have been killed over the past 30 months.

He said the resolution must simply support the programme of the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and offer to provide additional workers for securing Syria's chemical sites.

Russia had insisted the August 21 attack was a provocation by the rebels, saying using chemical weapons was not in Assad's interests.

But France, the United States and Britain put the blame squarely on the regime.

The United States had said the attack killed more than 1,400 people and UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned it as a "war crime". However the United Nations experts who visited the site did not assign blame to either side.

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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.