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Putin calls Syria war crimes allegations ‘rhetoric’

Paris (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed as “political rhetoric” accusations that war crimes had been committed in Syria’s Aleppo, speaking in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

“It’s political rhetoric that does not mean much and does not take into account the realities in Syria,” Putin told France’s TF1 television

“I am deeply convinced that it is our Western partners, first and foremost of course the United States, who are responsible for the situation,” he added.

On Sunday French President Francois Hollande described as a war crime the campaign in Aleppo, where a barrage of air strikes in the rebel-held east in the last month has left hundreds dead, including dozens of children.

Putin said the bombardments were aimed at the “Al-Nusra Front, an organisation that has always been considered a branch of Al-Qaeda and is on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations.”

“We cannot allow terrorists to take advantage of civilians and use them as human shields,” he said. “We cannot allow them to blackmail the entire world by taking hostages, killing prisoners by cutting their throats.”

Russia has been waging a punishing aerial bombing campaign in Syria for more than a year in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, part of a multi-front war that has claimed some 300,000 lives and seen Moscow further estranged from the West.

“If we want to go through with the fight against terrorism, we have to fight the terrorists and… not bend or retreat,” Putin added.