First priority in Syria is aid: Iran


New York (AFP)

The first priority in Syria is for the international community to get humanitarian aid to those in desperate need, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday as a ceasefire unravelled.

"We must all focus on getting this aid to those who need it, which has nothing to do with grounding flights," he told a news conference in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

"If you ground flights, you're aiding terrorists whether you like it or not."

Rouhani made the remarks in response to a question from a journalist about why Iran was backing the Bashar al-Assad government and whether Iran would support calls to ground Russian and Syrian airplanes.

But on Thursday the Syrian army announced the launch of an offensive to retake the rebel-held east of Aleppo, despite Russian and US attempts to convene last-ditch talks in New York to save a ceasefire plan.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had demanded Wednesday that Russia force the Syrian government to ground its air force in order to revive hopes of a ceasefire after a UN aid convoy and a field clinic were bombed.

Rouhani said the second priority was a "fully engaged fight against terrorism" and third, paving a proper path towards governance for all.

Nearly 60 percent of Syrian territory is under the control of extremist groups Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front -- recently renamed Fateh al-Sham Front -- who behave like "savages" in beheading people and burning them alive, Rouhani said.

Iran had welcomed the Russian and US-brokered ceasefire plan, but warned Sunday that a monitoring system was needed to stop it being exploited by "terrorists".

Iran is a principle backer of Assad and calls for a political solution to the civil war, which is now in its sixth war. More than 300,000 have been killed and millions have been forced from their homes.