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France skeptical of fighting freeze in Syria’s largest city

March 4, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — France expressed “skepticism” Tuesday that a freeze in fighting could ever happen in parts of Syria’s largest city Aleppo and is blaming President Bashar Assad’s government.

The proposal was made by the U.N. envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who was heading to Paris for talks with French officials Wednesday on developments in the four-year-old Syrian conflict which has killed 220,000 people according to U.N. figures.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told a press conference that the government supports de Mistura’s efforts — but “we’ve expressed our skepticism regarding the initiative.”

De Mistura, the third U.N. envoy trying to end the conflict, envisioned freezes starting with Aleppo as a way to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid and as building blocks to wider negotiations on a solution to the civil war.

The government accepted the freeze in late February, but only in a small area of Aleppo, which has been divided into government- and rebel-held districts since mid-2012.

On Sunday, Syria’s main opposition and rebel factions in Aleppo rejected the proposal, saying they will refuse to meet de Mistura unless talks are based on an understanding that “a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis” will include the exit of Assad and his inner circle from office and “prosecution of war criminals.”

Delattre said the Assad government refused to accept conditions that would avoid a Syrian takeover of rebel-controlled areas in Aleppo, recalling that after a cease-fire in opposition-held areas of the central city of Homs last May government forces took over.

“Bashar al-Assad is proposing truces while at the same time he is stepping up his bombing campaigns,” Delattre said.

He called de Mistura’s proposal “praiseworthy — but it didn’t work.”

Delattre said France believes efforts must be made now to pursue a political solution by working on two tracks — consolidating the divided moderate opposition and bringing together regional and international partners.

It’s “a very difficult, stony path,” he said, “but by doing that we hope that we will be able to create the conditions for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.”

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