Germany has revived calls for a no-fly zone in northern Syria an idea that once might have greatly helped the beleaguered rebels and protected civilians from bombardment but now is more complicated, dangerous and unlikely due to Russia's air campaign supporting President Bashar Assad.
The proposal came amid international efforts to coax at least a temporary truce and as the government allowed humanitarian aid to head for besieged areas around the country, part of an effort described by a Russian official as a first step toward implementation of an agreement reached among world powers in Munich last week.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has been trying to secure aid deliveries and to improve the chances of restarting peace talks before the end of February. But those efforts have been clouded by a major government offensive north of Aleppo, where various forces backed by regional and international rivals are clashing over a crucial strip of land linking Syria's largest city to the border with Turkey.
The violence in Aleppo, which has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing toward the border, led to the collapse of indirect talks between the Syrian government and its opponents earlier this month.
It appears also to have revived a longstanding proposal to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria, which was floated repeatedly by Turkey and other Assad opponents throughout the 5-year-old war.
A no-fly zone would potentially create a safe haven for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians and help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. But Washington has long rejected the idea, fearing it would draw US forces further into the civil war.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support Tuesday for the idea and repeated it yesterday in parliament. She said it could be done by an agreement with Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group a proposal that analysts say is now unrealistic and more an attempt to appease Turkey.
At a news conference, Merkel said such an agreement would be "a sign of good will," suggesting she was referring to a more informal deal to halt aerial attacks, and that this could help lead to the overall cessation of hostilities agreed upon in Munich.
Enforcing a no-fly zone has become considerably more difficult since Moscow began its air campaign in Syria on September 30. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov shrugged off Merkel's proposal, saying it would require Damascus' consent and UN Security Council approval. Asked by reporters about Merkel's initiative, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov snapped: "It's not Merkel's initiative, it's Turkey's initiative.