- U.S. diplomat says Russia's intentions to be clear within days
- Turkey says up to 70,000 Syrians fleeing Aleppo amid bombing
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it will become clear within days whether Russia is willing to support peace talks and halt its stepped-up air war in Syria, and in the meantime “whining about it” won’t stop the bombing.
Kerry’s comments Friday reflected a determination to salvage fragile peace talks in Geneva that were suspended days after they started, while also condemning Russia’s expanding bombing near Aleppo aimed at bolstering the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry said Russia is using free-falling “dumb bombs” that are killing civilians, including women and children.
“Hospitals have been hit, civilian quarters have been hit, and in some cases, after the bombing has taken place, when the workers have gone in to try to pull out the wounded, the bombers come back and they kill the people who are pulling out the wounded,” Kerry told reporters in Washington. “This has to stop. Nobody has any question about that. But it’s not going to stop just by whining about it.”
The remarks came after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday that as many as 70,000 Syrians are on their way to Turkey from northern Aleppo. Russia’s air power has helped Assad’s military forces move to within 3 kilometers (2 miles) of the city, according to the U.K. based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the Netherlands that Russia’s actions were “causing increased tensions and violations of Turkish airspace.” On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect Turkey of “intensive preparations” for sending troops into Syria.
The U.S. is leading a coalition to fight Islamic State, which has seized a swath of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris and Beirut in November, as well as the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt in October. While Russia says its bombing campaign is aimed at terrorists in Syria, the U.S. says Russia instead is supporting Assad by going after an array of his opponents, including groups backed by the coalition.
The surge in refugees from Syria to Europe has heaped pressure on governments from Athens to Stockholm and has tested Angela Merkel’s leadership of Germany, a country that saw more than a million asylum seekers in 2015.
“Everyone needs to be aware -- this applies particularly to the Assad regime and also to Russia -- that a worsening of the humanitarian situation further reduces the chances of success at the political talks” on Syria, Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Friday. “We have to move precisely in the opposite direction.”
Leaders gathered in London on Thursday to discuss aid to Syria, including funds to improve conditions in camps and to convince refugees not to risk dangerous sea and land journeys to reach European Union countries. The flood of people from the Middle East and North Africa seeking asylum in Europe has created the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“The substantial Russian buildup in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean is also shifting the strategic balance in this part of the Mediterranean,” said Stoltenberg of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.