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Vladimir Putin has decided to cancel a planned visit to France amid a row over Syria.

The Russian president had been due to meet his French counterpart Francois Hollande and open a new Orthodox church on October 19.

However, after the French government said talks would be confined to Syria the visit was halted, presidential sources said.

On October 10, Francois Hollande suggested Russia could face war crimes charges over its bombardment of Syria’s city of Aleppo.

The French presidency had told the Russians President Hollande would attend only one event with Vladimir Putin during the visit planned for October 19 – a working meeting on Syria, according to the sources.

But after this Russia “let it be known that it wanted to postpone the visit”, they added.Vladimir Putin Panama Papers

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin confirmed the trip had been canceled, adding that the visit would take place when it becomes “comfortable for President Hollande”.

Despite this Francois Hollande has said he will meet Vladimir Putin at “any time” if it would “further peace”.

The development comes a day after President Hollande told French TV that prosecutions over Syria could take place in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“These are people who today are the victims of war crimes. Those that commit these acts will have to face up to their responsibility, including in the ICC,” the French president said.

Neither Russia nor Syria is a member of the ICC.

Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilians, and says it targets terrorist groups in Syria.

The besieged east of Aleppo has come under intense aerial bombardment since a cessation of hostilities brokered by the US and Moscow collapsed last month.

The area was hit again on October 11 in some of the heaviest air strikes in days, a monitoring group and activists said.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 8 civilians were killed in strikes on the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardos districts.

Diplomatic efforts to revive the ceasefire have so far come to nothing.

The UN has warned that eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people still live, could face “total destruction” in two months.

Last week Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution drafted by France calling for an end to the bombing in Aleppo.

A Syrian truce has come into effect after five years of civil war.

The “cessation of hostilities” began at midnight on February 27 with early reports saying front lines were silent.

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said fighting had “calmed down” but one breach was being investigated.

In the run-up to the deadline, President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government and its ally Russia “the world will be watching”.

The truce involves government and rebel forces, but not ISIS or the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed in Syria’s civil war and millions more have been forced from their homes.

A few hours after the deadline passed, a car bomb killed two people outside the government-held town of Salamiyeh, near Hama, Syrian state media reported. It is not clear who carried out the attack.

Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said while some gunfire was heard in the northern city of Aleppo as the deadline passed, elsewhere it was quiet.Syria truce 2016

Staffan de Mistura has said that peace talks will resume on 7 March if the truce “largely holds”, adding that he had no doubt there would be “no shortage of attempts to undermine this process”.

Russia said it would continue to bomb militant targets. Russian jets were reported to have intensified attacks on Syrian rebel positions on February 26.

In the run-up to the truce, heavy attacks around Damascus and Aleppo were blamed on Russian airstrikes, but denied by Moscow.

The cessation was brokered by the US and Russia, and is backed by a UN resolution. Previous talks in Geneva collapsed in early February after making no progress.

One of the key aims of the cessation is to allow desperately needed aid to reach people trapped in besieged areas.

The UN resolution names about 30 areas in dire need of aid, including eastern and western rural Aleppo and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which is under siege by ISIS jihadists.

Almost 100 rebel factions have agreed to respect the truce, Syrian opposition umbrella group the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said.

However, the HNC warned the Syrian government and its allies not to use the “proposed text to continue the hostile operations against the opposition factions under the excuse of fighting terrorism”.

President Vladimir Putin says the Russian forces are targeting ISIS, Nusra Front and other extremist groups designated as legitimate targets by the UN Security Council.

However, Russia is widely accused of also attacking more moderate rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of the Kremlin.

Russia has firmly rejected accusations of war crimes over the bombing of hospitals in Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “those who make such statements are not capable of backing them up with proof”.

Up to 50 people were killed in missile attacks on at least four hospitals and two schools in rebel-held areas of northern Syria on February 15.

The UN said the “deliberate” targeting of such facilities “could amount to war crimes”, according to Reuters.

Russia has been accused, by Turkey among others, of being responsible for the attacks.

Meanwhile, a Turkish official on February 16 said Turkey would back a ground operation in Syria but only “with our international allies”.

Yesterday’s strikes hit two hospitals and two schools in Azaz, near the border with Turkey, and at least two hospitals in Maarat al-Numan, further south.

One of the hospitals in Maarat al-Numan was run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which called the attack a “deliberate” strike.

Mego Terzian, president of MSF France, told Reuters “either the [Syrian] government or Russia” was responsible.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

The Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, previously said the US was to blame, a claim the Pentagon dismissed as “patently false”.

The strikes came days after world powers – including Russia – agreed to work towards a selective truce in Syria, due to begin later this week.

The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on February 16, and was planning to meet him again later in the day.

They were due to discuss among other things one of the key priorities of the truce – “unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged areas”. There is no word yet on when aid convoys might reach those areas.

Earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cast doubt over the “cessation of hostilities” plan, saying it did not mean all the parties would put down their weapons.

“So far they say they want a ceasefire within a week,” Bashar al-Assad said in his first comments of February 12 agreement.

“Who is capable of gathering all these conditions and requirements within a week?”

Syrian government forces – backed by Russian air power – are reportedly continuing to make advances around the northern city of Aleppo, capturing the villages of Ahras and Misqan on February 16.

A number of people have been killed after airstrikes hit three hospitals in northern Syria, doctors and witnesses say.

According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), seven people died in an attack in Maarat al-Numan. Activists said another hospital in the town was also hit.

Another strike in Azaz near the Turkish border killed 10, reports said.

MSF blamed pro-Syrian government forces for the raid in on its hospital; Turkey blamed Russia for the Azaz strike.

They come days after Russia and other world powers agreed to a limited cessation of hostilities in Syria.

Almost five years of civil war in Syria have led to the deaths of more than 250,000 people. More than 11 million people have been displaced.

It has not been confirmed who carried out the latest attacks.Syrian hospital airstrike

However, Mego Terzian, president of MSF France, said the Maarat al-Numan strikes were carried out by forces “loyal to President Bashar al-Assad”.

Mego Terzian told Reuters: “There were at least seven deaths among the personnel and the patients, and at least eight MSF personnel have disappeared, and we don’t know if they are alive.”

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said a Russian ballistic missile had hit buildings in Azaz, with children among the dead.

Associated Press reported that five people had died at a children’s hospital.

One doctor, Juma Rahal, told the Reuters news agency: “We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital.”

Several more people were killed in an air raid on a nearby village, AP reported.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria since September in support of President Assad and against what it terms “terrorists”.

Azaz has seen an influx of thousands of people fleeing advances by the Russian-backed Syrian army in Aleppo province.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which has been making advances in the area, has also targeted Azaz.

Turkey has shelled Kurdish positions since the weekend and on February 15 promised the “harshest reaction” if the forces tried to take Azaz.

Turkey views the YPG militia in Syria as allied to the outlawed PKK, which has carried out a decades-long campaign for Kurdish autonomy within Turkey.

Syria said the Turkish shelling was a violation of its sovereignty and has called on the UN Security Council to act.

MSF said four rockets had hit the hospital in Maarat al-Numan, a rebel-held town about 20 miles south of the city of Idlib, within minutes of each other on February 15.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said nine people were killed, including a child. The raid also left dozens of others wounded, it added.

MSF’s head of mission in Syria, Massimiliano Rebaudengo, said the strikes appeared to be a “deliberate attack on a health structure”, warning the attack left tens of thousands without medical care.

Another hospital in Maarat al-Numan was also hit, opposition group the Local Co-ordination Committees said, killing three people.

More than 200 civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria, an Amnesty International report says, quoting witnesses and activists.

Amnesty International accused Russia of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs on civilian areas, and said such attacks could constitute war crimes.

Moscow insists it is targeting only the positions of “terrorist” groups.

The human rights said in its report it is also researching concerns about the US-led coalition air strikes in Syria.

The US has rarely acknowledged civilian deaths in its aerial bombardment of ISIS, which began in September 2014.

Russia began air strikes in September this year, saying it was acting at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is targeting ISIS and other groups it has designated to be terrorists, some of which are backed by the West.

In the report, Amnesty said it had “researched remotely” more than 25 Russian attacks that took place in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo between September 30 and November 29.

It had interviewed “by phone or over the internet” witnesses to the attacks, and had audio and video evidence, as well as “advice from weapons experts”, Amnesty said.Russian airstrikes Syria

It said there was evidence that Russia’s military “unlawfully used unguided bombs in densely populated areas and inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions”.

Amnesty set out its findings into six attacks – each of which, it said, caused dozens of civilian casualties, but had no obvious military target nearby.

On November 29, for example, it said at least one suspected Russian warplane fired three missiles into a busy public market in Ariha, in Idlib province.

A local activist group said a total of 49 civilians were either killed or missing and feared dead.

“It was a normal Sunday; there was nothing unusual. People were buying goods; children were eating,” the activist, Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal, told Amnesty.

“First there was a loud explosion – dirt flying in the air – followed immediately by shock. In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos.”

Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal said the armed group Jaysh al-Fateh controlled the area, but did not have any presence inside Ariha itself.

“Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians,” Amnesty’s Philip Luther said.

Russian officials have so far made no public comments on the report’s accusations.

However, Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked on Monday if Russia was using cluster bombs, said Moscow was “conducting its operation in strict conformity with principles and norms of the international law”.

The Kremlin has previously described similar reports as attempts to discredit its operations in Syria, describing such claims as part of “information warfare”.

President Vladimir Putin said in October that reports of alleged civilian casualties had emerged before the first air strikes were even carried out.

More than 250,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is to hold rare talks with President Barack Obama to outline his proposals on the Syrian conflict which is at the centre of intense diplomatic activity in New York, where world leaders are attending the UN General Assembly.

The Russians are a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Western leaders have recently softened their stance towards him – conceding that he might be able to stay on during a political transition.

In his opening remarks at the summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court, saying there can be no impunity for “atrocious crimes”.

Ban Ki-moon said five countries – Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran – were key to finding a political solution, but unless they could compromise it would be “futile” to expect change on the ground.

Earlier, Moscow suggested there were plans to form an international contact group including all the countries Ban Ki-moon mentioned plus Egypt.Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama Syria talks

The morning session at the UN is hearing from Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Francois Hollande, whose country has just carried out its first air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria.

The threat of ISIS extremists and the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe has added urgency to the search for a deal to end the civil war.

Vladimir Putin has reiterated his support for Bashar al-Assad, who Western countries and the Syrian opposition have said must go.

The Russian president, who has strongly reinforced Russia’s military presence in Syria, has called for a regional “coordinating structure” against ISIS, and said the Syrian president’s troops were “the only legitimate conventional army there”.

Vladimir Putin said Russia would not participate in any troop operations in Syria.

Relations between Russia and the West have been strained over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last year and its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine’s east.

Vladimir Putin will also meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the assembly, the Kremlin was quoted as saying by Reuters.

President Hassan Rouhani – a key regional ally of Bashar al-Assad – says the government in Damascus “can’t be weakened” if ISIS militants are to be defeated.

Secretary of State John Kerry, however, said the efforts were “not yet coordinate” and the US had “concerns about how we are going to go forward”.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is to give a rare speech to the nation, state media say, as he continues to battle an uprising against his rule.

The address will cover “the latest developments in Syria and the region”, according to the Sana news agency.

It comes amid fierce fighting close to the capital, Damascus.

The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising against President Assad, which began in March 2011.

The speech will be Bashar al-Assad’s first public address since June.

In an interview with Russian TV in November – his last public comments – he said he would “live and die in Syria”.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is to give a rare speech to the nation as he continues to battle an uprising against his rule

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is to give a rare speech to the nation as he continues to battle an uprising against his rule

Since then opposition rebels have gained control of swathes of territory in northern Syria, and have formed a more inclusive leadership council which has been recognized by the US and the EU.

But opposition efforts to gain ground in and around major cities including Damascus have been met by stiff resistance and increasingly destructive air strikes.

On Saturday the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce fighting in Harasta and Daraya, suburbs of Damascus.

Diplomatic attempts to end the conflict in Syria have so far failed.

UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing a plan approved at an international conference in June that would create a transitional government.

But the plan leaves President Assad’s role unclear. The Syrian opposition has insisted that Bashar al-Assad must step down for the conflict to end.

Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a week ago that a negotiated solution was the only option.

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