France wants urgent U.N. Security Council meeting on Aleppo

MINSK (Reuters) - France called on Tuesday for an immediate United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in Aleppo and said it would press for a U.N. resolution to punish the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

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Speaking ahead of a meeting in the Belarusian capital Minsk on the Ukrainian crisis, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Syrian government forces and their allies would not resolve the Syrian conflict by carrying out one of the “biggest massacres on a civilian population since World War Two.”

“This (Security Council) meeting would have to find a way to deal with the humanitarian situation and see how we can get aid in. We have to find a way,” Ayrault told Reuters.

Previous such meetings have failed to end hostilities.

French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre and British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said they were jointly requesting the council meeting on Aleppo.

They said they hoped to schedule the meeting for later on Tuesday or Wednesday and want U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien and U.N. children’s agency UNICEF to brief the 15-member council.

The Syrian army and its allies announced the capture of a large swathe of eastern Aleppo from rebels on Monday in an accelerating attack that threatens to crush the opposition in its most important urban stronghold.

Capturing eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.

Retaking Aleppo would shore up Assad’s grip over the main population centers of western Syria where he and his allies have focused their firepower, while much of the rest of the country remains outside his control.

France, a backer of the anti-Assad opposition, is pushing for a Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons. Ayrault said France and Britain had taken over drafting the resolution from the United States.

An inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has already found that government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

“We are now the penholders. We are not giving up. There have to be sanctions,” Ayrault said before meeting his Russian, German and Ukrainian counterparts.

Ayrault said a meeting in Paris around Dec. 10 of countries opposed to Assad, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, would discuss how to find a political solution to the crisis.

Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Jonathan Oatis