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Syria no-fly zone proposal floated as aid effort begins

Published 17/02/2016

A convoy of humanitarian aid waits before making its way into government-besieged rebel-held towns in Syria (AP)
A convoy of humanitarian aid waits before making its way into government-besieged rebel-held towns in Syria (AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has renewed her proposal for a no-fly zone in Syria where civilians would be protected.

Her suggestion was promptly rebuffed by Russia, which said it can only be done with the Syrian government's consent.

Meanwhile, more than 100 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid left capital city Damascus to be delivered to five besieged areas in the country.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has been trying to secure aid deliveries to improve the chances of restarting peace talks before the end of February.

Those efforts have been clouded by intense fighting north of Aleppo, where various forces backed by regional and international rivals are clashing over a crucial strip of land linking Syria's largest city to the border with Turkey.

The violence in Aleppo and lack of improvement on the humanitarian front led to the collapse of indirect talks between the Syrian government and its opponents in Geneva earlier this month.

It appears also to have revived a long-standing proposal to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria - an idea that has been repeatedly floated by Turkey and other opponents of Syrian president Bashar Assad throughout the five-year-old war.

A no-fly zone would potentially create a safe haven for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians but the US has long rejected the idea, fearing it would draw its forces further into the civil war.

Ms Merkel expressed support for the idea and said it could be done by agreement between Mr Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

Enforcing a no-fly zone has become considerably more difficult since Russia began its air campaign in Syria late last year.

Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov shrugged off Ms Merkel's proposal, saying it would require Damascus's consent and Security Council approval.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the US for not backing his country's proposals, adding that a no-fly zone would have prevented Russia's air campaign in the region and thwarted thousands of civilian deaths.

In Damascus, the humanitarian delivery operation got under way despite a delay of several hours.

The convoys carrying food, medicine and other assistance reached the rebel-held town of Madaya, north-west of the capital, while a 35-truck convoy was to deliver aid to the rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh southwest of the capital.

A mobile clinic offered by the Syrian Red Crescent also entered Madaya to tend to wounded civilians.

According to the agreement, aid would simultaneously be delivered to two communities in the northern Idlib province that are besieged by rebels.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders now says at least 25 people were killed in an airstrike on one of the hospitals it supports in northern Syria.

Spokesman Tim Shenk said nine hospital staffers and 16 other people were killed, including a child. The dead included patients. At least 11 people, 10 of them staffers, were injured.

The previous death toll was 11.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, has said the airstrike on the hospital in Idlib province appeared to be deliberate.

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