Beirut: The United States is close to suspending talks with Russia on a ceasefire in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday, as the Kremlin vowed to press on with an assault on the city of Aleppo.
The United States and European Union accuse Russia of torpedoing diplomacy to pursue military victory in Aleppo, and say Moscow and Damascus are targeting civilians, hospitals and aid workers to break the will of 250,000 people living under siege in the city.
The United States called the assault on Aleppo by Syria and Russia “a gift” to ISIS on Thursday, saying it was sowing doom and would generate more recruits for the militant group. But US officials are searching for a tougher response to Russia’s decision to ignore the peace process and seek military victory on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are on the verge of suspending the discussion because it is irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place to be sitting there trying to take things seriously,” Kerry told a public policy conference in Washington. Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, the US State Department said but it did not announce a suspension of the diplomacy, suggesting Washington may give Moscow a little more time.
Syrian government forces made a significant advance, capturing the Handarat refugee camp a few kilometers (miles) north of the city. They had briefly seized it on Saturday, before losing it again in a rebel counter attack. Rebel fighters have launched an advance of their own near the central city of Hama, where they said they made gains on Thursday.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned what they called “barbarous” Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes on Aleppo during a phone call Thursday, the White House said.
The Syrian government and its ally Russia “bear special responsibility for ending the fighting in Syria,” the two leaders agreed, strongly condemning the strikes in eastern Aleppo, an area they said is “populated with hundreds of thousands of civilians, half of whom are children.”
The United Nations says a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding unlike any witnessed so far in Syria’s brutal five-year war as Moscow and Damascus carry out an offensive to retake the city after a ceasefire collapsed last week.
Obama and Merkel urged parties on the ground to “continue respecting the ceasefire, begin the disengagement of forces along the line of contact as quickly as possible and provide international monitors unfettered access to the entire conflict zone.”
Air strikes pounded Aleppo province on Thursday while at least 11 civilians, including seven children, died during attacks on the city of Idlib, nearby Jarjanaz and central Hama province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.