German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron held a phone conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on February 25 that saw the German and French leaders urge Moscow to exert “maximum pressure” on the Syrian dictator and erstwhile Russian ally Bashar al-Assad to “immediately begin implementation” of a newly-brokered UN ceasefire.
Merkel and Macron stressed to Putin that the ceasefire could be “a basis to advance efforts toward a political solution in the context of the UN-led Geneva peace process,” before adding, “Germany and France continue to be willing to work with Russia and other international partners toward this goal,” Merkel’s office said in a statement.
The talks were announced after the UN Security Council unanimously voted on February 24 for an immediate cessation of hostilities after heavy shelling and one of the deadliest air assaults as warplanes loyal to Assad pounded a rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta, a district outside the capital Damascus.
A UN spokesman quoted UN chief Antonio Guterres as saying an immediate truce was is necessary “particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded, and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, as well as the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people.”
All 15 members of the Security Council voted in favour of a ceasefire following a flurry of last-minute negotiations on the text after Moscow opposed setting a deadline for the truce to take effect.
Reports said the sponsors of the resolution, Kuwait and Sweden, amended the text to get Russian support by dropping a demand that the truce to come into effect 72 hours after it was passed. The resolution added the term “without delay” as a concession to the Kremlin, which is one of five permanent members with veto power on the Security Council.
Calls for a truce came amid reports by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that warplanes had hit eastern Ghouta, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens of others only minutes after the Security Council adopted the resolution.
According to activists, Syrian government forces have killed more than 500 civilians in a week of intense bombardments in the region.
Turkey said it welcomed the ceasefire, but refused to halt its own military major operations against the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria’s northern district of Afrin.
Ankara launched a massive air-and-land operation against Afrin – a Kurdish stronghold. The Turkish government says the main U.S.-allied and trained YPG is a terrorist group that threatens both Syria’s and Turkey’s territorial integrity.