US calls for immediate halt to Russian airstrikes in Syria

US calls for immediate halt to Russian airstrikes in Syria

WASHINGTON - Anadolu Agency
US calls for immediate halt to Russian airstrikes in Syria

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Russian airstrikes in Syria should be halted, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Feb. 5, adding that humanitarian access talks are ongoing.

"Russia is using what are called free-fall bombs - dumb bombs," he told reporters at the State Department. "They are not precision bombs, and there are civilians, including women and children, being killed in large numbers as a consequence."

"This has to stop," he said.

The latest effort to bring Syria’s warring parties to the negotiating table was suspended earlier this week without any meaningful progress on ending the war, or improving humanitarian access in the country.

But Kerry insisted that cease-fire talks are underway to provide humanitarian access to the country's besieged areas.

He said the coming days would determine "whether or not people are serious, or people are not serious."

The Syrian government’s recent advances near the northern city of Aleppo could worsen the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis, the White House said.

“Our principal concern about Aleppo right now is there's the possibility that government forces backed by the Russians would encircle that city and essentially lay siege to that city,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

“That would obviously exacerbate a terrible humanitarian situation there.”

Backed by allied militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and supported by Russian airstrikes, Syrian government forces have made a number of advances on rebel-held towns near Aleppo, most recently taking cities to the north - cutting rebel supply lines to Turkey.

Noting the potential detrimental effects of the offensive for a potential political transition, Earnest said, “the more confident the Assad regime gets in terms of their hold on power, the less of an incentive they have to engage constructively in the political process.”

Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, has long been a key battleground. Rebel fighters launched an offensive on the northern city in 2012, and it has since been contested by the government, various rebel groups, Kurdish forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

A Syrian government siege of the city could potentially leave tens of thousands of civilians without basic necessities.

While he wouldn’t rule out humanitarian aid drops for civilians, Earnest said that the U.S. is focused “on trying to get the kind of cease-fire that would allow aid organizations to provide that relief and that assistance on the ground.”

“You can move a lot more through a convoy of trucks than you can through pallets that are dropped out of a military transport aircraft,” he said.

Thousands of civilians have already fled Aleppo fearing coming conflict.