June 17, 2015 / 1:29 PM / in 2 years

U.N. Syria envoy condemns attacks by both sides, seeks greater access

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations mediator for Syria, who held talks with President Bashar al-Assad this week, on Wednesday condemned the government’s “unacceptable” heavy bombing of civilian areas near Damascus and deadly rebel attacks on Aleppo.

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura gestures during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 5, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura called on both sides to allow greater access to besieged areas, especially in view of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts this week. He also reiterated the need for a political settlement.

De Mistura, in meetings with Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, “underlined once again that the use of barrel bombs is unacceptable, and that it is an obligation under international humanitarian law for any government, in all circumstances, to protect its civilians,” the statement said.

He condemned the “heavy bombings by government forces last (Tuesday) night on Douma, which caused significant casualties” in the suburb about 10 km (6 miles) northeast of central Damascus.

De Mistura and government officials also discussed “the increasing threat of advances by terrorist organizations,” the statement said, in an apparent reference to Islamic State. Damascus frequently describes all fighters opposing the government as “terrorists”.

The U.N. envoy also condemned attacks on civilians by opposition forces, including on the northern city of Aleppo on Monday and a mortar shelling that hit central Damascus on Tuesday.

More than 30 people were killed in the most lethal rebel bombardment of Aleppo since Syria’s conflict started four years ago, a group monitoring the war said on Tuesday

De Mistura began a series of talks last month saying he expected to meet 40 or more delegations for one-on-one discussions in Geneva, including Syrian officials, opposition and civil society, and representatives of governments in the region and with influence in the conflict. They will continue into July, the statement said.

More than 220,000 people have been killed and nearly 4 million driven abroad since the conflict began in March 2011, according to U.N. figures.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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