U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended his efforts to negotiate with Moscow over the war in Syria on Monday, despite the collapse of the truce and the massive Russian-backed offensive on the besieged rebel-held sector of Aleppo.
Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on Thursday it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on Monday. the offensive includes a ground assault, artillery bombardment, and intensive airstrikes.
Since last Monday, more than 400 civilians have been killed in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said on Monday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama was “deeply concerned” by the “sickening” bloodshed in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.
“What we have seen from the Assad regime and the Russians is a concerted campaign to strike civilian targets, to bomb civilians into submission,” he said.
Kerry’s diplomatic overtures to Moscow had faced scepticism, including from other senior officials within the U.S. administration.
Kerry said his failed ceasefire was not the cause of the fighting, and the only way to stop the war was to talk. He lashed back at critics, including Republican senator John McCain, who described him last week as “intrepid but delusional” for putting too much faith in Russia.
“The cause of what is happening is Assad and Russia wanting to pursue a military victory,” Kerry told reporters during a trip to Colombia. “Today there is no ceasefire and we’re not talking to them right now. And what’s happening? The place is being utterly destroyed. That’s not delusional. That’s a fact.”
Since Russia joined the war a year ago to support Assad’s government, the administration of President Barack Obama has been engaged in intensive diplomacy with Moscow, trying to end the war between the government and most rebel groups and turn the focus toward the common fight against Islamic State.
In a tense confrontation at the United Nations over the weekend, the United States called Russia’s bombing in support of Assad “barbarism”, and said Russia was killing civilians, medical staff and aid workers.
Russian and Assad regime say they are bombing only militants, although video from Aleppo has repeatedly shown small children being dug out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.
The latest escalation has left U.S. Syria policy in tatters, all but destroying any hope of a breakthrough before Obama leaves office next year.
The Kremlin said on Monday tough Western condemnation might hinder any resolution to the crisis. Moscow saw “absolutely no prospect” for holding a summit on Syria, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Moscow blames Washington for the failure of the ceasefire, arguing that the United States failed to prevent rebels from using the truce to regroup.
Tragic situation in Aleppo
Intense air strikes toppled buildings and killed at least 91 civilians in Aleppo on Saturday, two days after the Syrian army announced an offensive to retake the rebel-held east of the city.
The Assad regime and Russia kept up the bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least 60 people, according to civili defense members.
The bombing continued overnight, harvesting more civilians’ lives.
Brita Hagi Hassan, president of the city council for opposition-held Aleppo, said the bombardment over the past three days has been exceptional.
“The planes are not leaving the skies at all … Life in the city is paralyzed. Everyone is cooped up in their homes, sitting in the basements. These missiles are even targeting the basements and shelters that we’d set up to protect people,” he said from the Aleppo countryside. Hassan has been unable to get back into east Aleppo for several weeks because of the siege.
Rescue efforts have been severely hampered because bomb damage has made roads impassable and because civil defense centers and rescue equipment have been destroyed in raids.
Civil defense worker Ammar al Selmo said rescuers have only two fire trucks and three ambulances left in Aleppo and that three fire trucks, two ambulances and three vans had been hit in the past week.
“We are trying to respond … but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Selmo said, speaking from Gaziantep, Turkey after recently leaving east Aleppo.
The massive five-day assault has overwhelmed the already-depleted medical and rescue infrastructure.
Only 30 remaining doctors are currently serving 250,000 people in east Aleppo, the Syrian American Medical Society reported on Friday.
“There are 30 doctors who are still inside the eastern Aleppo city,” Abd Arrahman Alomar, a pediatrician who works for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) in opposition-controlled areas, told a news briefing in Geneva.
“There are hundreds of injured people in the streets, in a dangerous condition, some of them are being treated there,” Alaa al-Halabi, a citizen journalist in east Aleppo told Syria Direct on Sunday. “Others are moved to small houses serving as field hospitals. Those are overflowing too, with the dead and injured.”
“We do not have enough doctors to cope with such a high number of casualties,” said Ibrahim al-Hajj, a volunteer with the White Helmets, a rescue group that operates in rebel-held districts. He said more than 200 injured people are in makeshift hospitals.
They lack equipment and emergency medicine to treat the many trauma cases, and there is only enough fuel to run hospital generators for 20 days. One obstetrician and two pediatricians remain to care for pregnant women and 85,000 children, he said.
The Assad regime forces has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.