Turkey urges Syria ground operation; UN prepares aid convoys
The United Nations announced aid convoys are being sent to besieged towns in Syria.
Istanbul: Turkey called Tuesday for a ground operation with its international allies to end the war in Syria, as the United Nations announced aid convoys are being sent to besieged towns.
"So far I understand that the government of Syria has approved access to seven besieged areas," said Vanessa Huguenin, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In Damascus, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura announced that aid convoys will be sent on Wednesday to test the resolve of warring parties to allow in humanitarian supplies.
"It is clear it is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid, particularly now after so long time," he told journalists after meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
"Tomorrow (Wednesday) we test this," he said, referring to the warring parties.
According to a Red Crescent source, the first convoys will head for the rebel-besieged Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in the north, and to Madaya and Zabadani which are encircled by the army.
Around 486,700 people in Syria currently live in areas besieged by either government or rebel forces, UN figures show.
Scores of people are reported to have died of malnutrition or because of a lack of medical treatment.
On the international front, tensions escalated over Russia`s air war backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Ankara branding the bombing "barbaric".
Turkey sees Assad`s ouster as essential to ending a five-year conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, and is highly critical of Iran and Russia for supporting the Damascus regime.
"We want a ground operation with our international allies," a senior Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul, adding such an operation would require the involvement of the United States and Gulf states."There is not going to be a unilateral military operation from Turkey to Syria," the official emphasised, but added: "Without a ground operation it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria."
Analysts fear that any ground incursion by Turkey and its NATO allies could lead to a dangerous confrontation with Russia.
Saudi Arabia, another fierce critic of Assad, has said it is ready to send special forces to Syria to take part in ground operations against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
The UN said Monday that nearly 50 civilians, including children, had died in the bombings of at least five medical facilities and two schools in northern Syria.
The region around Syria`s second city of Aleppo has been the target of a major anti-rebel offensive by Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes, which has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border.
Russia denied it had bombed any hospital, calling such reports "unsubstantiated accusations".
De Mistura and Muallem met Tuesday to try to keep alive a proposal announced in Munich last Friday for a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week.
Assad on Monday said it would be "difficult" to implement a truce by Friday. "Who is capable of gathering all the conditions and requirements in a week? No one," he said.
Turkey shelled Kurdish positions in northern Syria for a fourth straight day Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said shells hit the town of Tal Rifaat which was captured on Monday from mostly Islamist rebels by a Kurdish-Arab coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Turkish media also reported shelling on Kurdish positions around the rebel stronghold of Azaz.
Kurdish forces were negotiating with rebels to enter the virtually encircled town of Marea, one of the last remaining opposition bastions in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.Turkey and Syria analyst Aaron Stein said that already "the events on the ground are moving too fast" for Turkey to be moving ground troops into Syria.
Ankara accuses the Kurdish forces of ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers` Party (PKK) that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey.
It fears the Kurds will be able to create a contiguous Kurdish territory just across the border in northern Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday accused Kurdish fighters in Syria of being "Russia`s legion working as mercenaries", with a priority aim of harming Turkey`s interests.
Russia`s air strikes have allowed government forces to press a major operation that has virtually encircled rebels in eastern Aleppo city, as well as pushing them from much of the region to the north.
The head of Lebanon`s Shiite movement Hezbollah which has been fighting alongside Assad`s forces, declared Tuesday that "victory" was imminent.
"In the days ahead and for the decade to come... we will proclaim victory alongside the Syrian army," Hassan Nasrallah said in a video message to supporters in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Turkey has been infuriated by the Kurdish advances, focusing its anger on Russia`s air support.
"Those vile, cruel and barbaric planes have made close to 8,000 sorties since September 30 without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly," Davutoglu told his ruling party.
Moscow has called Turkey`s shelling of Kurdish forces in Syria "provocative", and said it supported raising the issue at the UN Security Council.