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India's Minister of State for External Affairs visits Syria

Men ride on a pick-up truck past damaged buildings in the rebel-held Bab al-Hadid neighbourhood of Aleppo,?Syria. Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters Damascus, Damascus Governorate, Syria Aug 19, 2016, 06.57 PM (IST)
India's Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, arrived in Damascus on Friday (August 19) for a two-day visit amid an escalation in the country's civil war.

Akbar, who arrived via Lebanon, is expected to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem on Saturday (August 20).

The main umbrella group for the Syrian opposition on Friday cautiously welcomed a proposal for a weekly pause in fighting in Aleppo to allow aid to reach besieged areas, provided it was monitored by the United Nations.

International concern has mounted over the fate of up to two million civilians in the city amid an intensification of fighting, with the World Food Programme warning on Friday that the situation was "inhumane, awful, disgusting, nightmarish".

Russia, Syrian President Assad's most powerful military ally, said on Thursday (August 18) it supported a long-standing U.N. call for a 48-hour truce each week in the city, and that it was ready to start the first one next week. Syria's government has not yet commented on the idea.

Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has focused mostly on fighting Sunni Arab rebels who have been battling to oust him in western Syria with support from countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Akbar's arrival in Damascus came the same day as India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj met her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in New Delhi.

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