United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that escalating military activity in Syria is threatening to derail efforts to institute a truce and reconvene peace talks.
"The escalated military activity by several parties, and the threats to resort to the further use of force, risk derailing efforts to find a sustainable political solution," Ban said on February 18 in his first report to the UN Security Council on implementing a December resolution setting out the road map for a peace process for Syria.
The resolution was supported by 17 countries with conflicting views on the Syrian conflict. Those same countries agreed on February 12 to a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week.
But with the deadline looming on February 19, Ban noted that compliance with the truce has not been evident as Syrian government forces have continued their campaign, backed by Russian air strikes, to encircle rebels in Syria's largest city of Aleppo and cut off their supply route to Turkey.
Moreover, Turkey in the past week took a step toward joining the conflict by shelling Syrian Kurdish militias that have been moving to seize parts of Syria's border region with Turkey.
Turkey has also sought to mobilize a coalition of nations to send ground forces into the battle on the border. Saudi Arabia has said it would join such a coalition.
The UN chief said in his report that rarely has the Security Council been presented with such a "stark" choice.
"The Syrian parties and their supporters can continue to pursue the bankrupt logic of a military victory, which has already led to the deaths of over 250,000 Syrians, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, and the creation of safe havens for terrorist organizations" such as the Islamic State group and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, he said.
Alternatively, Security Council members, including Russia, the United States, and European powers, can to try to deescalate the violence and get the peace negotiations back on track, he added.
The UN has tentatively scheduled a new round of talks for February 25, should the truce effort succeed before then.
UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura halted the last round of talks on February 5 partly because of the increased military activities around Aleppo.
For negotiations to succeed, Ban said the 17-nation International Syria Support Group will need to show "genuine, committed, and sustained backing."
Ban repeated his call for the council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation of possible war crimes. "Those responsible must be held accountable for the appalling crimes that continue to be committed," he said.
An attempt in May 2014 to refer the Syrian crisis to the ICC was supported by 13 council members but vetoed by Russia, Syria's closest council ally, and China.
With reporting by AP and AFP