x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Turkey wants Syrian regime's bombardment declared a war crime

Turkey called on the international community yesterday to declare the Syrian regime's bombardment of its own citizens a war crime.

BEIRUT // Turkey called on the international community yesterday to declare the Syrian regime's bombardment of its own citizens a war crime, while a UN food organisation said the livelihood of about half the country's population was threatened by the 22-month conflict.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that Aleppo and other cities are being "bombarded by airplanes indiscriminately".

He describe its as "a criminal act" even at a time of war and urged the international community to declare the bombardment a war crime and to insist on humanitarian access to areas of central Syria.

The need for aid was raised by in Damascus by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation that said Syrian agriculture has been shattered by the war that left more than 60,000 people dead.

In a statement, it said that the country's agricultural sector is in tatters, with "cereal, fruit and vegetable production dropping for some by half and massive destruction of irrigation and other infrastructure".

"Destruction of infrastructure in all sectors is massive," said Dominique Burgeon, the group's emergency and rehabilitation division director after a five-day visit to both regime- and rebel-controlled areas.

The organisation said about 80 per cent of 10 million Syrians - about 46 per cent of the population - derive their livelihoods from agriculture.

Wheat and barley production was halved last year, going from 4 to 4.5 million tonnes in normal years to less than 2 million tonnes, and less than half of the farmers were able to harvest their cereal crops, it said. It attributed the farmers' difficulties to a lack of fuel, insecurity, and damage to irrigation canals.

"Theyneed urgent agricultural support in terms of seeds, fertilisers, animal feed, veterinary drugs, poultry and rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure," the statement said.

Several flashpoints in Syria's conflict, chiefly Damascus and Aleppo in the north, have been struck by a severe bread shortage and a lack of fuel used for cooking, heating and transportation.

With violence escalating and hopes of a political solution dwindling, Russia announced yesterday for the first time that it has evacuated families of its diplomats in Syria some time ago but said it is not planning a large-scale evacuation of the tens of thousands of its citizens still in the country. Russia has been the main protector of president Bashar Al Assad, shielding him from UN sanctions over his crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011. In Moscow, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov sought to play down the significance of evacuation of 77 of its citizens who had fled Syria and were flown back to Moscow yesterday. He told reporters that about 1,000 Russians residing in Syria contacted consular officials to express their interest in leaving the country, but no large-scale evacuation was immediately planned.

A rocket fired by Syrian regime forces slammed into a northern rebel-held village yesterday, killing six members of a single family, activists said. The rocket landed in the village of Abu Taltal in Aleppo province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. The groups frequently report government bombardment of rebel-dominated regions.

* With additional reports by Agence France-Presse and Reuters