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French politicians row over Syria as Aleppo evacuation suspended

Lorries carry residents out of Aleppo on Friday morning
Lorries carry residents out of Aleppo on Friday morning Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

The evacuation of Aleppo was suspended again on Friday morning ahead of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council organised at France's initiative. And a political row over how to tackle the crisis has blown up in France itself.

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The Syrian government on Friday suspended the evacuation after about 1,000 people had been transported out of the stricken city.

Officials claimed that rebel fighters were leaving Aleppo with hostages.

A World Health Organisation official told the Reuters news agency that his organisation, along with the Red Cross and Red Crescent had been told to leave east Aleppo, the area that President Bashar al-Assad's army has seized from rebel groups.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, called at French insistence, was due to meet on Friday evening to discuss the evacuation of civilians and providing humanitarian aid to those who remain.

Saying that France was working closely with Germany and "other European partners", Paris's UN ambassador, François Delattre, declared that the deployment of international observers was "more necessary than ever".

In Brussels on Thursday evening President François Hollande said that he could "not even imagine" that Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad main foreign ally, would veto a "humanitarian resolution".

Socialists lash Fillon over Russia/Syria

Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault accused right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon of "glacial cynicism" on Friday.

He was commenting on the former prime minister's claim that the Syrian civil war is evidence of the "failure of Western diplomacy and particularly European diplomacy".

In Brussels for a meeting with MEPs on Thursday, Fillon called for Europe to push for discussions with all parties. 

Saying that he had "great respect" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he called on the European Union to "bring all the people who can stop this conflict to the table without excluding anyone, thus including those who are committing crimes today", he said.

"Monsieur Fillon said that indignation has never saved a life," Ayrault told RTL radio. "I'm sorry, it's indifference that kills."

He pointed out that Western diplomats had discussed with Assad allies Russia and Iran and had tried to organise meetings of all parties, including unsuccessful inter-Syrian negotiations in 2014 and 2016.

But he insisted that Assad cannot remain Syrian president.

Hollande on Thursday also took up Fillon's statement.

"No, it's not enough to talk to Vladimir Putin," he said, adding that Russia had wanted to "crush the opposition" and calling Assad a "dictator who wanted to massacre his own people".

The president promised to continue to "seek a political solution ... while involving all the parties and excluding none of them".

Franco-Russian writer attacks 'arrogant ignoramuses'

Hard-right presidential candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan on Friday attacked the "appalling Russophobia" he claims is reigning in France and accused Hollande of a "lamentable" performance on the Syrian question.

"I'm not a Putin supporter, all I'm asking is that France have an independent policy to the United States," he told the iTélé TV channel.

And Russian-born novelist Andrei Makine, who was granted political asylum in France in 1988, lashed the US and its allies for a "strategy of chaos" in the Middle East and dubbed the last three French presidents "arrogant ignoramuses" when he was awarded France's highest literary honour on Thursday.

Accusing the West of arming fundamentalists, he said "millions have been sacrificed on the altar of globalisation" in a speech on being admitted to the Académie Française.

After the ceremony he told journalists that criticism of Russia's role is "ridiculous".

"Here we have a city that has been bombed for four years and when the Russians arrive they're held responsible," he commented.

His sponsor, Dominique Fernandez, also judged that Russia has been "slandered" and that French press coverage is "systematic disinformation".

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