World

Obama Urges Putin To Halt Air Campaign Against Syrian Opposition

| by Nik Bonopartis
Syrian Civilians Protest In DamascusSyrian Civilians Protest In Damascus

A planned cease-fire in Syria could be endangered by Russia, which continued its bombing campaign against rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The cease-fire, which was agreed to by major powers -- but not by Assad or the rebel groups fighting his forces, including ISIS and al-Qaida -- was meant to provide a window for humanitarian groups to deliver aid, medicine and food to at least 500,000 civilians in the country, according to the Daily Mail.

The U.S., Russia and 15 other countries agreed to the cease-fire during a United Nations security summit in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 12, Time reported. Despite agreeing to the cease-fire, Russian forces continued airstrikes, and Russian officials said they have no plans to halt the sorties.

This has caused concern among humanitarian group leaders, who said they were already frustrated that the cease-fire wasn't intended to take effect for another week.

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"We must ask again, why wait a week for this urgently needed cessation of hostilities?" Dalia Al-Awqati, Mercy Corps director of programs for North Syria, said in an interview with the Daily Mail. "Each delay places innocent civilians at greater risk and impedes our efforts to support the half a million people who depend on us for food and other essential supplies."

Russia's interest lies in backing the Assad regime and strengthening its own position in the Middle East, according to Time. Russian air power has been deployed in support of the Syrian president's forces, which are conducting an offensive to regain control of Aleppo, the country's largest city and an important economic hub.

The fighting and airstrikes have displaced even more people, according to Time, sending tens of thousands of citizens fleeing toward the Turkish border to the north.

One central disagreement between U.S. and Russian officials revolves around Syrian rebel groups the U.S. deems "moderate," as opposed to the common enemies agreed upon by both sides, like ISIS and al-Qaida. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev told Time his government does not agree with the U.S. in categorizing the other rebel groups as moderates.

“They are all bandits and terrorists,” Medvedev said in Munich. “They move around amongst themselves for various reasons: They get paid more somewhere else, or somebody has a falling out with somebody else. So it is very difficult for us to tell the difference between the very moderate ones and the not-so-moderate ones, the good from the bad.”

While President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were imploring the Russians to go along with the cease-fire, critics like Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Russia has its own interests in the region, and would continue to pursue those interests regardless of any cease-fire agreement.

"Let's be clear about what this agreement does. It allows Russia's assault on Aleppo to continue for another week," McCain said, reports the Daily Mail. "Mr. Putin is not interested in being our partner. He wants to shore up the Assad regime, he wants to establish Russia as a major power in the Middle East, he wants to use Syria as a live fire exercise for Russia's modernizing military."

Sources: Daily Mail, Time / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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