Turkish helicopter downed in Syria's Afrin - Erdogan

Artwork by Iranian magazine Atate Mandegar depicting Turkey's attack on Afrin

France demanded an end to air strikes in Syria on Friday as warplanes mounted further attacks on a rebel stronghold near Damascus where a war monitor said government bombardments have killed 229 people, the deadliest week in the area since 2015. The Syrian government was accused of using chemical weapons more than 175 times.

The UN humanitarian coordinator, Panos Moumtzis, has made this appeal but with no avail.

Among them were at least 58 children, the Observatory said.

"That is not realistic", Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters at the UN.

The two discussed the long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, the White House said in a statement. By the end of previous year, health care facilities had been attacked nearly 500 times since the start of the conflict, mostly by Russian and Syrian warplanes.

It also heralded the violent end of a "de-escalation" agreement, brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey, to reduce violence in Syria and prepare the ground for peace talks.

Ford was the last US ambassador to Syria and now teaches at Yale University and is a fellow at the Middle East Institute.

The officials said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to the summit in a telephone call Thursday. USA -backed Kurdish-led forces have been fighting for control of Deir el-Zour with rival Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias.

Turkish helicopter downed in Syria's Afrin - Erdogan
Turkish helicopter downed in Syria's Afrin - Erdogan

For almost a month, Turkey has been engaged in a massive military operation in northwestern Syria with an alleged aim of neutralizing a threat by Kurds from the city of Afrin and surrounding areas in the Syrian province of Aleppo.

Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without a fight.

"Now they are saying that they will keep their presence till they make sure a steady process of a political settlement in Syria starts, which will result in regime change", the minister said during a conference in Sochi, stressing that the USA has "plans of virtual division of Syria".

The United Nations has been sounding the alarm about the escalating level of violence, and called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.

The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

The Turkish president also invited Rouhani to the Istanbul meeting on the Syria conflict. But the recent bombardment appears calculated to punish the opposition for the failure of the Sochi conference, and perhaps force them to surrender the region as the conflict heads into its eighth year.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.

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