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SYRIA

France calls for urgent UN Security Council talks on Aleppo

France on Thursday requested urgent closed-door consultations at the UN Security Council on the evacuation of civilians from the Syrian city of Aleppo and plans for deliveries of aid, diplomats said.

France calls for urgent UN Security Council talks on Aleppo
Syrian pro-government forces advance in the Jisr al-Haj neighbourhood of Aleppo on December 14th. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of civilians and rebels boarded buses earlier in the day to leave Aleppo as Syrian forces moved to assert full control of the city.

French President Francois Hollande lashed out earlier on Thursday at Russia's role in the siege of Aleppo, saying that Moscow had broken a promise to aid trapped civilians.

“Russia is making commitments that it is not keeping. There's a moment where you have to answer with action,” Hollande told reporters as he arrived for an EU summit overshadowed by the Syria crisis

Citing both Russia and Iran, Hollande said that regimes supporting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would “take the responsibility for this extremely serious situation for the population.”

Hollande also hit back at criticism that he had failed to fully engage with Russia, which has emerged as a key player in the Syrian conflict after launching a massive air campaign last year to support long-time ally Assad.

“I speak all the time with Russia. Russia makes commitments that it does not meet, so now it is time that we have this truce and urgent humanitarian aid if necessary,” he said.

French presidential favourite Francois Fillon said separately that the fall of Aleppo marked the failure of western, and especially European foreign policy.

He said it was no use the West wringing its hands at developments in Syria and instead it should face up to the facts, however unpalatable.

“We are now obliged to acknowledge the failure of western diplomacy and more particularly European diplomacy,” he said.

“If we want now to stop the massacre, there are only two solutions,” he said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the summit.

First, a military intervention, which no one wants and only the Americans could mount; or a sustained diplomatic effort to bring all parties to the negotiating table — “even those today committing crimes.”

Fillon has faced criticism in the French press for not speaking out about the atrocities being committed in Aleppo. The Nouvel Obs called his silence in recent days “embarrassing” and said it was symptomatic of his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Western powers have long called for Assad to step down as part of transitional peace deal for Syria but he refuses to do so and his position has been greatly strengthened by Russian support.

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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