France flays Assad for ‘mass crimes’

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PARIS: France on Friday accused Syria of doing nothing to reach a peace agreement after almost seven years of war and said it was “committing mass crimes” in the Eastern Ghouta region where 400,000 people are besieged by government forces.

“The Assad regime never entered in any negotiation since the beginning of the civil war,” France’s Ambassador to the US Gerard Araud said on Twitter, adding: “They don’t look for a political compromise but for the eradication of their enemies.”

There is no alternative to a negotiated political solution agreed by both parties under the auspices of the UN,” Alexandre Giorgini, deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in a daily briefing, reiterating Paris’ support for UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and appearing to dismiss a separate Russian initiative planned in Sochi next year.

“We deplore the attitude of the Syrian regime, which has refused to engage in the discussion. The Syrian regime is responsible for the lack of progress in the negotiations,” he said.

The UN says about 400,000 civilians are besieged and face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries by the Syrian regime were blocked and hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave.
“By denying humanitarian access, the Damascus regime is responsible for mass crimes, particularly through the use of the siege as a weapon of war,” Giorgini said.

Meanwhile, over half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are now living in extreme poverty, and the vast majority live below the poverty line, the UN’s refugee agency said Friday.

According to the UN, more than a million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon since the war in their country erupted in March 2011.
The massive influx has tested Lebanon, a country of just four million citizens that already struggled with overstretched resources before the arrival of Syrian refugees.

Over the last six years of the war, the refugee population has sunk further into debt and poverty, UNHCR said, with 58 percent of households now living in extreme poverty, defined as less than $2.87 per person a day.

That is an increase of five percent since last year, UNHCR said in an annual survey.
The survey found 76 percent of refugees were living below the poverty line, defined as less than $3.84 per person a day, and that nearly 90 percent of refugees were in debt.

“Syrian refugees in Lebanon are barely keeping afloat,” said UNHCR’s Lebanon representative Mireille Girard said.
“Most families are extremely vulnerable and dependent on aid from the international community.”

One bright spot in the survey was a large jump in school enrolment of refugee children aged 6-14, with 70 percent now registered at school, up from around just half. But the report found just 12 percent of adolescent refugees had finished their education.

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