The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more aid access to Aleppo, where rebel-held areas are being cut off and the United Nations has warned a new humanitarian disaster could be on the way, Reuters reports.
Kerry is hoping for agreement at a meeting in Munich on Thursday between Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other powers, aimed at trying to revive peace negotiations that foundered earlier this month.
In turn, Syrian officials have indicated no plans to ease up the war effort. A Syrian military source said on Wednesday the battle for Aleppo, a major prize in a war which has killed a quarter of a million people, would continue in “all directions”.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said the government expected a tough but relatively short battle to return the city to state control.
A Western official said Russia had made a proposal to begin a ceasefire in Syria on March 1, but that Washington has concerns about parts of it and no agreement had been reached.
In Washington, a state department envoy told Congress the United States needs to consider options in case the diplomatic push does not succeed.
Asked how soon a ceasefire could be put in place, a Russian diplomat who declined to be identified said: “Maybe March, I think so.”
At a closed-door meeting of the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, several members pressed Russia to end the Aleppo bombing sooner.
“The (Syrian) regime and its allies cannot pretend they are extending a hand to the opposition while with their other hand they are trying to destroy them,” French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Russian air strikes were being undertaken in a “transparent manner” and some Security Council members had “crossed the line” by politically exploiting humanitarian issues.
“They rather crudely use humanitarian matters in order to play, we believe, a destructive role as far as the political process is concerned,” said Churkin, adding that given the heightened interest in humanitarian issues, the council should also start regularly discussing Yemen and Libya.
One U.N. diplomatic source said Russia was “stringing Kerry along” in order to provide diplomatic cover for Moscow’s real goal – to help President Bashar al-Assad win on the battlefield instead of compromising at the negotiating table.
“It’s clear to everyone now that Russia really doesn’t want a negotiated solution but for Assad to win,” said the diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Kremlin rejects claims that it has abandoned diplomacy in pursuit of a military solution, saying it would continue to providing military aid to Assad to fight “terrorist groups” and accusing Syria’s opposition of walking away from the talks.