STATE DEPARTMENT - Russia says it has brokered a 72-hour extension for a local cease-fire in the ravaged Syrian city Aleppo, where recent fighting between the Syrian regime and rebels has left nearly 300 people dead.
Russia’s Interfax news agency said an initial two-day cessation, which expired early Saturday local time in Syria, had been extended “at Russia’s initiative.”
The news agency said Russia's Defense Ministry also announced that a cessation for a northern region of Latakia had been extended for 72 hours.
The United States and Russia announced localized truces for Latakia and the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta last week in a bid to help keep a nationwide cessation of hostilities announced in February from unraveling.
Mounting violence in Aleppo and other regions threatened to derail political talks between the Syrian regime and opposition as well as the multinational effort to fight the Islamic State.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. welcomed the extension of the cessation in Aleppo, which has reduced the violence. But he said the U.S. was continuing to seek broader results.
“Our goal is to get to a point where we no longer have to count the hours and that the cessation of hostilities is fully respected across Syria,” Kirby said in a Friday statement.
Earlier Friday, Kirby said the United States had not ruled out the prospect of working with Russia to broker more localized truces in Syria if needed.
The United States and Russia are co-chairs of a cease-fire task force. Russia has been using its leverage with the Assad regime and the United States has been using its influence with the opposition to try to curb the country’s unrest.
Airstrike at camp
Shortly after the United States and Russia confirmed the initial reaffirmation of the cease-fire in Aleppo on Wednesday, at least 28 people were killed in an airstrike on a Syrian refugee camp in Idlib province, near the country’s border with Turkey.
It is unclear who carried out the strike on the Kamounda camp, where internally displaced Syrians have gathered. U.S. officials said they were seeking more information.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said the attack could have been carried out by the al-Nusra Front, a terrorist group that is not included in Syria’s cease-fire.
He said based on the nature of destruction at the camp, it “could have been either intentionally or by mistake struck from multiple rocket launchers, which are often used by al-Nusra Front terrorists in the area.”
Stephen O'Brien, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said suspicion for the attack would fall on the Syrian government, and that the United Nations would hold accountable whoever was responsible for this "abominable act."
Possible war crime
Separately, a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said Friday that the U.N. secretary-general was “outraged” by the “seemingly calculated attack against civilians,” which could constitute a war crime.
The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee also pointed a finger of blame at the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“It is absolutely disgusting that the regime is targeting families who were forced to flee their homes,” spokesman Salem al-Meslet said in a Friday statement.
VOA's Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.