A US threat to suspend talks on Syria over the bombardment of Aleppo’s rebel-held areas constitutes “an emotional breakdown”, according to a top Russian official, who says that Moscow will support a 48-hour “humanitarian pause” around the besieged city.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, rejected on Thursday US calls for a seven-day truce as “unacceptable”, but said a two-day ceasefire could allow desperately needed aid to reach the more than 250,000 civilians trapped in Aleppo.
The Syrian army announced last week an operation to retake the opposition-held east of Aleppo city following the collapse of a Russia-US orchestrated truce.
Ryabkov’s comments followed a warning by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington would end talks on the conflict, as well as a military pact that involves targeting the ISIL and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham groups unless Moscow halted the assault on Aleppo.
Kerry conveyed the message in a call to Lavrov on Wednesday in which he voiced “grave concern” over the Russian-backed Syrian government’s air and land attacks on Aleppo that have left more than 400 people dead and at least 1,700 wounded since last week.
Kerry said the US held Russia responsible for the use of incendiary and bunker buster bombs which put Aleppo civilians at great risk, according to John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department.
Kirby also said that Russia had an interest in stopping the violence in Syria because armed groups could exploit the vacuum there and launch attacks “against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities”, according to Reuters news agency.
His statement drew a strong reaction from Moscow on Thursday, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling it clumsy and unhelpful.
Peskov also told reporters that the Russian air force would continue to support Syrian government troops and urged Washington to deliver on a pledge to separate moderate Syrian opposition fighters from “terrorists”
The Syrian government’s offensive to recapture all of Aleppo – with Russian air support and Iranian help on the ground – has been accompanied by bombing that residents have described as unprecedented in its ferocity.
On Wednesday, at least six civilians were killed when air strikes hit two hospitals in rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo.
The M10 and M2 hospitals were hit before dawn, forcing both to shut temporarily, and leaving just two of east Aleppo’s eight hospitals with surgical facilities.
An estimated 250,000 people still live in the east, which has been under near-continuous siege since mid-July, causing food and fuel shortages. Attacks on water installations from both sides have left more than two million civilians without water.
‘Opportunity to escape’
Meanwhile, the head of the White Helmets volunteer rescue force, which operates in opposition-held territory in northern Syria, said that under current conditions civilian facilities in eastern Aleppo would no longer be able to function within a month.
“The civilians there would seize any opportunity to escape, to go wherever they could go,” Raed Saleh told AFP news agency.
“But nothing is available to provide safety and protection for those civilians.”
The Syrian civil war started as a largely unarmed uprising against Assad in March 2011, but quickly escalated into a full-blown armed conflict.
Five years on, more than 400,000 Syrians are estimated to have been killed, and almost 11 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – have been displaced from their homes.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies