UNITED NATIONS —
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks on the two largest hospitals in rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo as "war crimes." The comments came as the U.S. threatened to cut off contact with Russia over Syria unless it takes steps to halt the assault on Aleppo.
"Let us be clear: Those using ever more destructive weapons know exactly what they are doing,” Secretary General Ban told a U.N. Security Council session on healthcare in conflict on Wednesday. “They know they are committing war crimes."
The U.N. chief expressed his utter frustration with the situation.
“Imagine a slaughterhouse. This is worse. Even a slaughterhouse is more humane,” he said.
Damage from the strikes temporarily knocked the facilities out of service, further limiting medical care in a part of the city where more than 250,000 people are besieged by the government as it mounts a fierce military offensive to retake the rebel-controlled sector.
According to UNICEF, the health system in eastern Aleppo is crumbling with just some 30 doctors remaining, hardly any equipment or emergency medicine to treat the injured, and an ever-increasing number of trauma cases.
Syrian civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, pass the body of a boy after he was pulled from the rubble following a government forces air strike on the rebel-held al-Shaer neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Sept. 27, 2016
US-Russia cooperation in jeapordy
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, telling him that Washington is making preparations to suspend bilateral engagement with Russia on Syria, unless Moscow takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities agreed to by the two powers on September 9.
“The secretary made clear the United States and its partners hold Russia responsible for this situation, including the use of incendiary and bunker buster bombs in an urban environment, a drastic escalation that puts civilians at great risk,” Kerry’s spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attacks on the hospitals, but militaries from Syria and its ally Russia, are operating in the area.
“It is very, very clear that there are only two air forces operating over Aleppo – that is the Syrian regime and the Russians,” Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters. “There is a clear responsibility on the part of the Syrian regime and the Russians to stop this campaign of violence.”
Russia’s deputy envoy, Evgeny Zagaynov, said information about attacks is often based on “unverified data” and that as a result, “falsified information is being spread.” He urged a “rejection of provocative rhetoric” and for all efforts to be focused on ending the conflict, for which he said there is a “very good basis for this based in Russian-American cooperation.”
France’s envoy François Delattre said his delegation is working on a cease-fire resolution for Aleppo. “It seems to us that it is the only way to move ahead, to move forward and to try to get a positive vote. That’s what we want at the Security Council and to leave everybody facing his/her responsibilities,” he told reporters.
It was not immediately clear how a council resolution would make any impact after the collapse of the U.S.-Russian agreement.
On the issue of the wider war in Syria, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the U.S. cannot stop the fighting without sending a large number of troops, and that he has to carefully consider how to deploy the nation's military when it is already involved in places like Afghanistan.
"There are going to be challenges around the world that happen that don't directly touch on our security, where we need to help, we need to help lead, but just sending in more troops is not going to be the answer," he told a military town hall event broadcast on CNN.