Russian proposal of joint air strikes not being discussed, says US
WASHINGTON – ReutersThe United States said it was not discussing joint air strikes with Russia on May 23 and called on Moscow to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to cease air strikes against opposition forces in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.
“We’re not looking at joint operations,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “We’re discussing with them proposals for sustainable mechanisms to better monitor and enforce the cessation of hostilities - we’re not talking about joint operations.”
Toner said the United States was concerned about an uptick in violence in Syria - by both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Assad’s forces - and said Russia had a special responsibility to press the Syrian leader to end attacks and strikes that kill civilians.
The Syrian government needs to recognize that “if this keeps up, we may be looking at a complete breakdown” of the cessation of hostilities, Toner said. A truce brokered by the U.S. and Russia in February has been unraveling for weeks.
The appeal came in a phone call from Secretary of State John Kerry to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
“Secretary Kerry raised these concerns in a call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier today [May 23] and urged him to press the regime to cease at once airstrikes against opposition forces and innocent civilians in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs,” the State Department said in a statement.
The latest attempts to salvage the truce come after at least 161 people were killed in car bombings and suicide attacks on May 23 in the northwestern cities of Jableh and Tartus that were claimed by ISIL.
The U.S. envoy for Syria late May 23 urged rebels to respect the Feb. 27 cease-fire after they gave its brokers - Washington and Moscow - until May 24 afternoon to stop the advance on rebel bastions outside Damascus.
“We recognize that the CoH [Cessation of Hostilities] is under severe stress, but believe that to abandon it now would be strategic error,” Michael Ratney said in a statement on Twitter.
“If the armed factions abandoned the CoH, Assad and his supporters would claim this gives them licence to attack all the opposition forces without international objection.”
Twenty-nine rebel groups had called on Washington and Moscow to force Assad’s regime “to completely and immediately halt their brutal offensive against Daraya and Eastern Ghouta” near Damascus.
Staunch regime ally Russia late May 23 called for a temporary local truce in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya - within the wider nationwide cease-fire - from May 24.
“The Russian reconciliation center is calling for a 72-hour regime of silence in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya,” Russian defense ministry quoted the head of the Russian coordination center in Syria, Sergei Kuralenko, as saying.