France and Russia to jointly deliver humanitarian aid to Syria
France and Russia will jointly deliver humanitarian aid to the former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the French Presidency announced Friday, while it was also revealed that Moscow has offered to work with the US on returning Syrian refugees.
A Russian cargo plane arrived late Friday in Chateauroux in central France to load 50 tons of medical equipment and essential goods provided by France, said an AFP videographer at the scene, to be transported to the former rebel area which was recaptured by Syrian troops this spring.
Undertaken as part of a UN Security Council resolution, "the aim of this project is to enable civilian populations better access to aid", the joint statement said.
The French foreign ministry said that the cargo plane would take off from Chateauroux later in the evening and head towards Russia's Hmeimim air base in the west of Syria.
It will be the first joint humanitarian aid operation between Russia and a western country.
The aid will be distributed on Saturday under the supervision of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).
"Humanitarian assistance is an absolute priority and must be distributed in accordance with principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence across all Syrian territory without exception, where international humanitarian law must be fully respected," the joint statement said.
France had secured "guarantees" from Russia that the Syrian regime would not obstruct the distribution of the aid, and that it would not be misappropriated or diverted for political purposes, the foreign ministry said.
Damascus regained control of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, in April, ending a five-year siege.
More than 1,700 civilians were killed during the Syrian regime's operation there in March and April. According to the Russian military, more than 160,000 people, both military and civilians, were evacuated from the region.
Co-operation with US on refugees?
It was also revealed on Friday Moscow has put forward plans to Washington to cooperate on the safe return of refugees to Syria, days after a summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
"Specific proposals on how work could be organised to ensure that refugees can return home have been sent to the American side," senior ministry official, General Mikhail Mizintsev, said in a statement.
The proposals "take into account the agreements reached by the Russian and American presidents during their meeting in Helsinki" on Monday, he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Friday this had been part of the presidents' talks.
"There was a discussion between President Trump and President Putin about the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back," Pompeo told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
"It's important that at the right time, through voluntary mechanism, the refugees are able to return to their home country.
"There is lots of work to do to figure out how to implement that, but the United States certainly wants to be part of helping to achieve that resolution in Syria."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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