Obama Condemns 'Barbarous Russian and Syrian Airstrikes" on Civilians in Aleppo
U.S. President Barack Obama has strongly condemned the "barbarous Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes" on civilians in eastern Aleppo.
The White House says Obama spoke by telephone Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both agreed that Russia and the Assad regime bear a "special responsibility" for stopping the fighting and letting humanitarian aid get in.
Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier the U.S. is "on the verge" of suspending diplomatic talks with Russia because of Moscow's continued bombing of rebels in eastern Aleppo.
A monitoring group said Friday Russian airstrikes across the country in the past year have killed more than 9,000 people, including many civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many more civilians were wounded by the airstrikes. In Aleppo itself, hundreds of thousands of civilians are stuck in the city. Half of them are children.
Kerry called it “irrational” to keep talking and “take things seriously” after the Russians vowed to continue the airstrikes. “It’s one of those moments where we’re going to have to pursue other alternatives for a period of time,” said Kerry. He added he is “extremely concerned” about the future of the Syrian people.
The United States is pushing Russia to pressure its close ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to honor a cease-fire and let U.N. relief convoys into Aleppo.
Russia and the Syrians say they are targeting "terrorists" -- their term for the rebels who want to topple the Syrian government.
But the U.S. says Russia and Syria are hitting hospitals, refugee camps and such critical sites as water and power plants. The U.S. says the bombs are indiscriminate and that the Russians make no effort to specifically hit their stated target -- Islamic State fighters.
Sudan Accused of Using Chemical Weapons in Darfur
Sudan's justice minister has refuted claims by displaced persons in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur that they suffered chemical exposure at the hands of the government of Sudan.
Amnesty International reported earlier Thursday that since January, people in Jebel Marra have reported blisters and rashes, skin falling off, eye problems including total vision loss, bloody vomit, diarrhea and severe respiratory problems.
Amnesty says these symptoms are due to chemical weapons used by Sudanese authorities. As many as 250 people, including many children, may have died as a result of chemical attacks, and hundreds more have been injured, says the rights group.
But Justice Minister Awad Hassan Elnour responded in a letter Thursday that government officials were "very astonished" to hear the allegations. He said it was the first he had heard of such events, which he said imply "a heinous humanitarian crime."
Elnour notes in his letter that members of a government fact-finding mission traveled to Darfur in February and met for three hours with people displaced by military operations in Jebel Marra. He said the people, who came from central Darfur villages, reported that they had left their villages to avoid the military violence and none had reported symptoms like those Amnesty describes.
Elnour also said Sudanese troops are in the area to defend against attacks by a rebel group. He said the armed forces are carrying out their constitutional duty in protecting the citizens and preserving the integrity, security and stability of the country and the people. He said they have had extensive training in humanitarian law.
The report released by Amnesty on Thursday states that Sudanese security forces have deliberately targeted civilians and their property, including the probable use of ‘blister agents,’ a banned class of chemical weapons, in roughly 32 villages in the Jebel Marra area.
Reuters news agency quotes Sudan's U.N. ambassador as saying the Amnesty report was “utterly unfounded” and that Sudan does not possess any type of chemical weapons.