Russia Refuses to Halt Aleppo Assault, Offers Short Respites

  • A day earlier, U.S. threatened to end cooperation on Syria
  • Humanitarian crisis deepens as fierce fighting persists

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Photographer: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia signaled there would be no halt to the devastating bombardment of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, a day after the U.S. threatened a diplomatic rift if it doesn’t stop.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country was willing to support temporary cessations of hostilities in the northern city for 48 hours at a time, the Interfax and state-run TASS news services reported.

“With the goal of ensuring humanitarian access, we’ve repeatedly proposed 48-hour pauses in Aleppo,” Interfax quoted Ryabkov as saying. But he ruled out even a seven-day truce, saying a period that long would allow “terrorist groups to rebuild supplies, rest their fighters and regroup.”

Russia came forward with its proposal after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened on Wednesday to break off contacts with Moscow over Syria unless the air offensive ends. 
“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,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.

The fighting in Aleppo has shattered an agreement between the two powers to halt 5 1/2 years of violence in Syria and proceed to peacemaking, and deepened the humanitarian crisis in the city.

Ryabkov said Russia doesn’t see any alternative to its agreement with the U.S., but “you can’t talk to Russia in the language of ultimatums. It is unacceptable,” TASS reported.

Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman, said Kirby’s statement amounted to the “most frank confession” that the Syrian opposition is “an international terrorist” group “under U.S. control.” Russia is aware of the number and whereabouts of U.S. specialists in Syria, including those in Aleppo province, and any threats against Russian servicemen and civilians should be avoided, Konashenkov said in a statement. 

For a QuickTake on Syria’s multifaceted civil war, click here.

Fierce clashes continued Thursday between Syrian regime forces backed by allied militias and mostly Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo’s historic district, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria through activists on the ground.

At least 96 children have been killed and 223 others injured this week alone, according to Anthony Lake, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund. Doctors were forced to let some children die while saving others with scarce medical supplies, Lake said in an e-mailed statement dated Wednesday.

“The world is watching these horrors unfold,” he said. “The murder of the innocents in Aleppo must stop.”

Earlier this week, two of the largest Syrian hospitals in eastern Aleppo were targeted by five artillery shells and several airstrikes, killing patients and staff, according to the American Relief Coalition for Syria. The group said one of the hospitals was the only trauma center that remained in eastern Aleppo, the rebels’ stronghold.

Hard to Stop

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it’s hard to end the fighting when the al-Qaeda wing in Syria and other groups are “constantly attacking the Syrian armed forces.” Assad’s allied forces will continue their “war with terrorists,” he told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

Russia entered the conflict on behalf of Assad a year ago, turning the tide in his favor. Earlier this month, the U.S. and Russia reached an accord that called for seven days of calm that would, if successful, lead to cooperation between them in targeting Islamic extremists in the country.

That calm never came, as Syria and Russia stepped up the bombardment of Aleppo, the country’s former commercial hub. Russia cited a deadly American airstrike on Syrian forces, which Pentagon officials called an accident, and said the U.S. was failing to keep moderate forces it backs from fighting alongside terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.

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