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As UN Prepares to Resume Syrian Talks, US Condemns Cease-Fire Violations

  • Pamela Dockins

Civil defense workers remove dead bodies from under debris after an airstrike on Kafr Hamra village in the northern Aleppo countryside of Syria, Feb. 27, 2016.

Civil defense workers remove dead bodies from under debris after an airstrike on Kafr Hamra village in the northern Aleppo countryside of Syria, Feb. 27, 2016.

The United States on Friday condemned the Syrian government for hampering deliveries of humanitarian aid and for launching airstrikes that have reportedly hit civilians.

The strongly worded condemnation from the State Department came as the U.N.’s Syria envoy plans to resume “substantive” talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva on Monday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the Syrian regime was guilty of an “ongoing practice of removing badly needed medical supplies” from emergency humanitarian aid deliveries.

He also said there were reports that regime airstrikes had struck civilians, in areas including Aleppo. In one case, he said, a strike hit civilians who were part of a congregation leaving a mosque.

Men unload aid boxes from a Red Crescent aid convoy in the rebel held besieged town of Jesreen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, March 7, 2016.

Men unload aid boxes from a Red Crescent aid convoy in the rebel held besieged town of Jesreen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, March 7, 2016.

“Attacks against civilians and the denial of humanitarian aid needs to stop immediately,” said Kirby, who added that the U.S. was urging Russia and other parties with ties to the Syrian regime to use their influence to try to persuade it to stop.

Clashes reported

Although the overall level of fighting has dropped since a partial cessation of hostilities took effect two weeks ago, there have been reports of violations on both sides.

Despite of those reported violations, the U.S. said the Syrian opposition, which initially agreed to a two-week cessation, is now willing to allow the cease-fire to continue as the U.N. moves forward with proximity talks.

“None of the armed factions nor the [opposition] High Negotiations Committee itself has indicated they want the cessation to end,” Kirby said.

Earlier Friday, the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group confirmed that it was ready to participate in the second round of U.N.-facilitated talks in Geneva.

Riyad Hijab, head of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, gives a press conference in London, Feb. 10, 2016. The committee said Hijab thinks the chances of reaching an agreement on a political transition in Syria are “slim.”

Riyad Hijab, head of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, gives a press conference in London, Feb. 10, 2016. The committee said Hijab thinks the chances of reaching an agreement on a political transition in Syria are “slim.”

However, it said opposition leader Riyad Hijab thought the chances of reaching an agreement on a political transition were “slim.”

In a statement, the group said the Syrian regime and its allies had carried out unlawful detentions and bombings over civilian areas and had blocked aid access to besieged areas.

Syrian, Russian targets

The first round of proximity talks broke off in early February, partly because of opposition complaints that the Syrian and Russian governments were bombing Syrian rebels instead of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Russia said the Syrian government, which has accused rebels of violations, had confirmed it would participate in the second round of political talks.

Also, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem scheduled a Saturday news conference that may shed more light on his government’s intentions.

Some U.S. analysts have expressed doubt about the prospects for ending Syria’s civil war through dialogue.

“The prospects for a political agreement in Syria have long been dim to negligible,” said Daniel Serwer, a Middle East Institute analyst and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“The current momentum comes from putting aside the central issue: whether [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad will continue in power,” he said in an article in peacefare.net.

Kerry, Saudis confer

As the U.N. prepares to relaunch negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with officials in Saudi Arabia on Friday.

“Kerry emphasized that now is the time to keep moving forward toward ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen,” the State Department said.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are part of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group, which has been backing plans for a political transition in Syria.

Also, the U.S. has been backing a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which has been carrying out airstrikes against Houthi rebels.

Syria will likely be a focal point for Kerry when he travels to Paris for meetings with his counterparts from France, Germany, Britain and Italy as well as EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.

Syria’s five-year civil war has resulted in 400,000 deaths, according to some reports, and has left millions displaced.

“No one wants to see a sixth year of conflict start on March 15,” said officials in a Friday statement from the U.N. and a group of nongovernmental organizations.

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