Syria Cease-Fire Falters as International Support Group Meets for Crisis Talks

Viability of cease-fire deal in question after airstrike on aid convoy, U.S. says

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were expected to meet Tuesday after airstrikes threatened the Syrian cease-fire accord.
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were expected to meet Tuesday after airstrikes threatened the Syrian cease-fire accord. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS
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Updated Sept. 20, 2016 3:16 a.m. ET

NEW YORK—A group of international powers with interests in Syria, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia, will meet Tuesday after an agreement the U.S. had framed as the “last chance” for a united Syria appeared to be shredding on Monday.

The meeting of the International Syria Support Group will take place alongside the United Nations General Assembly Meeting in New York, and comes in the tumultuous aftermath of an airstrike on an emergency aid convoy outside of Aleppo on Monday, the seventh day of a cease-fire arrangement that took effect Sept. 12.

U.S. officials called the airstrike “outrageous” and said it threatened the already strained cease-fire accord, one of several the U.S. and Russia have sought over the past year.

“This fundamentally calls into question the viability of what we are trying to achieve here,” a senior administration official said late Monday, briefing reporters.

Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, before the larger gathering on Tuesday, another senior administration official said, voicing doubts about the cease-fire.

Under a Sept. 10 agreement between Russia and the U.S., a cessation of hostilities was to begin at sundown Monday, Sept. 12 and last for seven days, accompanied by an influx of humanitarian aid. The two powers agreed that Russia would ensure the cooperation of Syria and its other supporters, including Iran and the militant group Hezbollah; the U.S. was to bring about the agreement of antigovernment rebels in Syria, not including the Islamic State extremist group or the Syria Conquest Front, formerly known as the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

The pact was contentious from the start, with both sides quickly alleging violations and as United Nations-backed humanitarian aid convoys remained bottled up outside Syria. Nonetheless, violence declined, and both Washington and Moscow approved a pair of 48-hour extensions over the course of the week.

However, Russia complained when an errant airstrike Saturday by the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State struck a Syrian military position, killing dozens, Moscow and Damascus said. U.S. and coalition officials acknowledged the error, and the shaken cease-fire remained in place.

As the seven-day period was about to expire on Monday, the first aid convoys in the country at last began to move; within hours, however, one came under airstrikes that destroyed at least 18 trucks and a warehouse and killed many aid workers, including the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Omar Barakat, activists said. U.S. officials said they were investigating the origin of the attacks.

One of the senior administration officials said in the briefing late Monday the incident raised “very serious questions about whether the Russians can deliver their end of the arrangement.” The second official said the Russians must demonstrate quickly that they are serious about the accord and can get the Assad regime to stop bombing, “otherwise there will be nothing to extend or salvage.”

After the seven-day period of sustained calm and humanitarian access, particularly in Aleppo, the U.S. and Russia were to have set up a joint military collaboration center and to begin coordinated attacks against Islamic State and the Syria Conquest Front. But such cooperation seemed unthinkable Monday.

As sundown arrived on Monday, the U.S. and Russia had not agreed either to extend the cease-fire or to establish the military coordination center. Neither side, however, had declared the agreement dead.

One of the senior administration officials said that the U.S. at this point wasn’t focused on the timeline, but rather “on the fundamental question of the viability of this enterprise.”

Even though Mr. Kerry and other senior officials expressed outrage about Monday’s attack, they weren’t prepared to immediately give up on the cease-fire arrangement, even while casting serious doubt on whether it could continue.

The International Syria Support Group consists of international powers on both sides of the five-year-old civil war and was formed last year in an effort to forge a cease-fire. Members of the ISSG also include China, Canada, the European Union and the U.N.
However, that cease-fire effort, which began early this year, subsequently collapsed, leading to the joint U.S.-Russian plan.

The effort by the two powers, who co-chair the support group, has been criticized by other countries, including France, as inadequate and unnecessarily secretive. Addressing complaints about secrecy, the U.S. said Monday it is sharing the U.S.-Russia cease-fire documents with its partners.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/syria-cease-fire-in-trouble-as-international-syria-support-group-meets-1474354934

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One Response to “Syria Cease-Fire Falters as International Support Group Meets for Crisis Talks”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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