MOSCOW—Top Russian officials said Thursday that Moscow would support a 48-hour cease-fire to allow aid into the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo but hit back at Washington over a warning that the U.S. was prepared to suspend its engagement with Moscow over a Russian and Syrian offensive against the city.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow advocated a “48-hour pause” in the fighting to allow in aid but added that a longer cessation of hostilities would allow militant groups arrayed against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reorganize, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
“In order to ensure humanitarian access, we have repeatedly offered a 48-hour pause, but American counterparts, for reasons known only to them but not to us, are totally fixated on the requirements of the seven-day pause,” Mr. Ryabkov said Thursday, according to Interfax. “A seven-day break is a sufficient period to ensure that terrorist groups can carry out activities to rearm, rest and regroup.”
The U.S. on Wednesday issued a threat to cut off Syria talks with Russia, after a U.S.-Russian cease-fire deal fell apart last week over the bombing of a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo and the launch of a fresh offensive by the Assad regime, which is backed by Russian air power. Officials in Washington said the Obama administration was reviving an internal debate over whether to give Syrian rebels more arms.
Mr. Ryabkov described Washington’s reaction to the impasse as an “emotional breakdown.”
A Wednesday briefing by State Department spokesman John Kirby also hit a nerve in Moscow. In a press conference, Mr. Kirby warned that “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and they will continue to lose resources—even, perhaps, more aircraft” if it doesn’t change its position.
In comments on her Facebook page, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said an official reaction would be forthcoming, but added, “Doesn’t it seem that such ventriloquism about ‘bodies in bags’…and the ‘loss of aircraft’ sounds more like ordering a dog to attack, rather than a comment by a diplomat?”
Russian Su-34 dropping bombs (File photo)
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said Russia was “fully ready to continue the dialogue with America” over coordinating efforts to fight extremists in Syria, according to Interfax.
“However, this dialogue must exclude even a hint of threat to our military and Russian citizens,” Gen. Konashenkov added, Interfax reported.
Warplanes and Syrian government helicopters bombed neighborhoods in rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Thursday, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The monitoring group said there were injuries and extensive destruction to buildings. Eastern Aleppo has been hammered by heavy air attacks for the past week after the regime and Russia launched a renewed offensive on the area, where about 300,000 people live. The bombardment has killed scores of civilians and put intense strain on the city’s medical and rescue capabilities.
Russia’s Tu-22M3 bombers (File photo)
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Thursday that EU governments were discussing measures that could be taken to respond to the “massacre” in Aleppo, without giving details.
There are “measures that could possibly be taken by the European Union and the international community” over the attacks, she said at a press conference in Brussels. “There are discussions under way.”
A senior EU diplomat said that for now, the focus is on action at the United Nations Security Council in New York to stop the fighting. However, if that failed, there were options for “putting pressure” on those responsible.
—Noam Raydan in Beirut and Laurence Norman in Brussels contributed to this article.
Write to Nathan Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org
Peace and Freedom Note: During the last ceasefire, a humanitarian aid truck convoy was bombed and destroyed. The U.S. blamed Russia and its Syrian allies. But Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov rejected those claims, which may have sapped all the trust U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had remaining for Mr. Lavrov….
Syria — Destroyed aid trucks stand near the rebel-held town of Urum al-Kubra. September 20, 2016. The US, UK and France said Russia bombed the humanitarian aid convoy. Russia denied the charge. Reuters.
“All we could see was a child’s feet.” — Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group recovered a body after airstrikes on Saturday in the contested city of Aleppo. More than 90 people died on Friday, and more than 100 on Saturday.Credit Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, via Associated Press.
Tags: Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Britain, ceasefire, EU governments, European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, France, humanitarian aid, John Kerry, John Kirby, Lavrov, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Putin, Relationship Between Russia's Lavrov and John Kerry from the U.S., Russia, Russian air power, Russian and Syrian offensive against Aleppo, Syria, Syrian government helicopters bombed neighborhoods, truce, U. S., U.S. led coalition, UK