The United States is close to suspending talks with Russia on a ceasefire in Syria, and Assad-Russian air force and ground forces intensified an assault aiming at retrieving Aleppo from the rebels’ hands and ending the five-year crisis.
Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, 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 19 September, more than 450 civilians have been killed and more than 1700 injured in rebel-held areas of Aleppo province, including the besieged eastern part of the city, Civil defense workers said.
Yesterday two hospitals was bombed and ran out of service, as only 30 doctors are left in the besieged part of the city.
The United States and European Union accuse Russia of torpedoing diplomacy to pursue military victory in Aleppo, and say Moscow and Damascus are guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians, hospitals and aid workers to break the will of 250,000 people living under siege in the city.
U.S. officials are searching for a tougher response to Russia’s decision to ignore the peace process and seek military victory on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are on the verge of suspending the discussion because it is irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place to be sitting there trying to take things seriously,” Kerry told an audience in Washington.
“It is one of those moments where we are going to have to pursue other alternatives,” he added.
The new discussions were being held at “staff level,” and have yet to produce any recommendations to President Barack Obama, who has resisted ordering military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s multisided civil war.
One official said that before any action could be taken, Washington would first have “follow through on Kerry’s threat and break off talks with the Russians” on Syria.
The U.S. officials said the failure of diplomacy in Syria has left the Obama administration no choice but to consider alternatives, most of which involve some use of force and have been examined before but held in abeyance.
These include allowing Gulf allies to supply rebels with more sophisticated weaponry, something considered more likely despite Washington’s opposition to this until now. Another is a U.S. air strike on an Assad air base, viewed as less likely because of the potential for causing Russian casualties, the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The options being weighed are limited in number and stop well short of any large-scale commitment of U.S. troops, which Obama, who has only four months left in office, has long rejected, the officials said.
Two U.S. officials said the speed with which the Syrians have advanced in Aleppo and the diplomatic track has collapsed caught some in the administration off guard. The fall of Aleppo would restore Assad’s rule over western Syria’s most important city and deal a devastating blow to the rebels.
As a result, one of the officials said, the list of options is narrowing to supporting rebel counter attacks elsewhere with additional weaponry or even air strikes, which “might not reverse the tide of battle, but might cause the Russians to stop and think.”
Another official said any weapons supplies would not include shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, or Manpads, which the Obama administration fears could fall into the hands of Islamic State militants or al Qaeda-linked groups.
The most dramatic option under consideration – but considered less likely – would be a U.S. air strike on a Syrian air base far from the fighting between Assad’s troops and rebel forces in the north, officials said.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, 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.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.