Germany, France urge Russia to pressure Syria for ‘immediate’ cease-fire

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C). The three leaders agreed to exert “maximum pressure” on Syria for an “immediate” implementation of a UN cease-fire. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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Germany, France urge Russia to pressure Syria for ‘immediate’ cease-fire

BERLIN: The leaders of Germany and France urged Russia Sunday to exert “maximum pressure” on Syria for an “immediate” implementation of a UN cease-fire in the war-ravaged country, Berlin said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron stressed in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin “that it is crucial that the (UN) resolution be implemented quickly and comprehensively,” Merkel’s office said in a statement.
“They call on Russia in this context to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting.”
The statement said Merkel, Macron and Putin had all welcomed the UN resolution on an at least 30-day cease-fire “particularly to allow humanitarian aid into and evacuations out of the war zone.”
Merkel and Macron stressed that a cease-fire could be “the basis to advance efforts toward a political solution in the context of the UN-led Geneva peace process.”
“Germany and France continue to be willing to work with Russia and other international partners toward this goal,” Merkel’s office added.
The leaders held talks after the UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously demanded a 30-day truce in Syria.
More than 500 civilians are thought to have died in a week of heavy bombardment by Syria’s regime of the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus.
After the council vote, which had support from Moscow, Syrian warplanes backed by Russian air power launched new raids on Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 41 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. Russia has denied taking part in the assault.
France and Germany have pushed for Russia to throw its weight behind the Syria cease-fire, which is mainly to allow aid to reach the besieged area and allow evacuations.


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 25 sec ago
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.