Putin cancels Paris trip over Hollande's Syria-only stance

Free Syrian Army rebels battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants in the Syrian village of Yahmoul north of the embattled city of Aleppo on Monday. At least 290 people have been killed in the Russian-backed Syrian government's onslaught on t
Free Syrian Army rebels battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants in the Syrian village of Yahmoul north of the embattled city of Aleppo on Monday. At least 290 people have been killed in the Russian-backed Syrian government's onslaught on the rebel-held areas of Aleppo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Visit called off after French leader insists he will discuss only Syria

PARIS • Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled a planned visit to Paris next week after President Francois Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria - the latest episode in deteriorating relations between Moscow and the West.

The development came as Russia reportedly carried out its heaviest strikes in days on the Syrian city of Aleppo yesterday, killing at least 12 people.

French officials have been seeking ways to put new pressure on Russia after Moscow vetoed a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria.

French officials' growing anger over the Russian-backed Syrian government's onslaught on the rebel-held areas of Aleppo had led them to reconsider whether to host Mr Putin on Oct 19.

"I made it known to Mr Putin that if he came to Paris, I would not accompany him to any ceremonies, but that I was ready to continue the dialogue on Syria. He decided to postpone the visit," Mr Hollande said at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The Russian leader had been scheduled to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and to visit a Russian art exhibition in the French capital.

The Kremlin confirmed Mr Putin's decision, but made no mention of Syria. It said Mr Putin was ready to come to Paris at Mr Hollande's convenience.

While Paris has said that it is vital to maintain dialogue with Moscow and not sever relations, events in Syria have damaged their ties as the two countries support opposite sides in the conflict.

Describing Russian air strikes in Syria as "war crimes", Mr Hollande said it was still necessary to talk with Moscow but only if discussions were "firm, frank", otherwise they would be a"charade".

"With Russia, France has a major disagreement on Syria, and the Russian veto of the French resolution at the UN Security Council has prevented the cessation of bombings and enablement of a truce," Mr Hollande said at the Council of Europe.

"I'm ready to meet President Putin if we can advance peace, end the bombings and announce a truce."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Monday that his diplomats were working to find a way for the International Criminal Court's prosecutor to launch an investigation into war crimes which France says have been committed by Syrian and Russian forces in Aleppo.

Yesterday, Russian jets resumed heavy bombing of eastern Aleppo after several days of relative calm, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

"This is the heaviest Russian bombardment since the Syrian regime announced it would reduce the bombardment" last week, the group's head, Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

The 12 dead, among them four children, were killed in raids in the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardos neighbourhoods, the group said.

Syria's army last month announced a bid to retake the city, which has been divided since mid-2012.

The assault began after the collapse of a short-lived truce negotiated by Washington and Moscow, and has seen the besieged east of the city come under fierce aerial assault.

Backed by Russian air raids, government forces have been advancing street by street into rebel-held parts of Aleppo.

At least 290 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by government or Russian fire since the operation began, according to the monitoring group.

Elsewhere in Syria, state media said five children were among six people killed in rebel rocket fire on a primary school in the southern city of Daraa.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Putin cancels Paris trip over Hollande's Syria-only stance'. Print Edition | Subscribe