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Kerry: Syrian Cease-Fire 'Understanding' Closer, But Work To Do

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) gestures next to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Geneva on May 2

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) gestures next to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Geneva on May 2

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on May 2 that talks with Russia and anti-Islamic State coalition partners were “getting closer to a place of understanding” to reestablish a cease-fire in Syria -- including the area around Aleppo.

But Kerry told reporters in Geneva ahead of talks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that there was still “some work to do.”

Speaking after those talks with Jubeir, Kerry said Syria was still "in many ways out of control."

He said legitimate political talks on Syria cannot take place unless government forces and rebels both sign up to a cease-fire deal.

Jubeir condemned an escalation of fighting in and around Aleppo in the midst of a cease-fire as a “violation of all humanitarian laws.”

He blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for air strikes that have killed hundreds there during the past week, saying Assad would have to either step down in a political deal or be forced from power.

Russia said at the weekend that it would not urge Assad’s forces to halt air strikes on Aleppo.

Moscow claimed they were targeting Islamic militants not covered by an internationally brokered cease-fire.

Kerry arrived in Geneva for talks with Arab counterparts and Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, and said Washington is looking to Moscow for cooperation.

"The hope is we can make some progress," Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, shortly after his arrival. "These are critical hours. We look for Russia's cooperation, and we obviously look for the regime to listen to Russia and to respond."

Fighting in the city of Aleppo -- which is 360 kilometers north of the capital, Damascus -- on May 1 left six dead and more than 40 wounded.

Opposition forces in control of part of Aleppo shelled government-held positions while Syrian forces reportedly also carried out at least one dozen bombing raids.

More than a week of fighting in Aleppo has killed several hundred civilians and darkened the prospects of a UN-backed peace process.

Russia appeared to shift its position earlier on May 1.

"At present, there is an active negotiation process taking place to establish a regime of calm also in Aleppo province," said General Sergei Kuralenko, the head of Russia's cease-fire monitoring center in Syria.

While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was not slated to arrive in Geneva for the talks, Kerry said that "we are talking directly to the Russians, even now."

The Kremlin announced on May 2 that Lavrov would meet de Mistura for talks on Syria in Moscow on May 3.

The Syrian Army announced a "regime of calm" late on April 29 in the province of Latakia and Damascus suburbs.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, was excluded from the plan, and heavy fighting continued in the city even after the truce was signed.

The Syrian Army confirmed a Russian announcement on May 1 that a "regime of calm" around Damascus has been extended for another 24 hours, but did not mention Aleppo, state television reported.

This pertains mainly to the Eastern Ghouta, suburbs of Damascus.

The U.S. State Department said Washington wanted Moscow to pressure Assad to end what it calls indiscriminate aerial attacks in Aleppo, which has long been divided between government- and opposition-held areas of control.

The Britain-based the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of monitors inside Syria, says both sides have bombarded residential areas for more than a week, killing more than 250 people including at least 40 children.

"I hope that in the course of the conversations I have here tonight, tomorrow, and the work that the teams are doing, [we can] zero in and pin down the modalities of reaffirming the cessation," Kerry said.

Judeh described called the situation around Aleppo "quite alarming" and said halting hostilities was crucial for the resumption of Syrian peace talks and humanitarian aid deliveries.

"We have to address the situation on the ground today asserting a nationwide cessation of hostilities that will lead to a better and more conducive environment for the political track," Judeh said.

The UN says more than 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011. Millions of others have been displaced or have sought refuge outside of the country.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Interfax