WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a war crimes investigation into the devastating offensive being waged by Syrian and Russian forces on the city of Aleppo.
Kerry's comments, made on October 7 alongside visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, were some of his harshest to date about the ongoing battle in Aleppo, where more than 250,000 civilians are stranded.
Moscow responded quickly to Kerry's call, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling a Russian TV channel that there were "very serious legal consequences behind this terminology."
"I believe Kerry used all these terms with a view to escalating the situation. If the matter concerns war crimes, American representatives should start with Iraq. And then switch to Libya and certainly to Yemen to see what [happened] there. What I want to say is that it's very dangerous to juggle such words because American officials also carry war crimes on their shoulders," Zakharova told Dozhd TV.
Kerry said hospitals and other civilian facilities in Aleppo were being targeted purposely.
"Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation over why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities, women, and children," he said.
"These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes, and those who commit these would and should be held accountable for these actions," he said. "They're beyond the accidental now, way beyond, years beyond the accidental. This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives."
While the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International have been gathering evidence of possible war crimes in Syria for years, it is highly unlikely any judicial proceeding against Syria or Russia would be allowed to go forward, given questions of jurisdiction and global politics.
Washington and Moscow have been on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict since it began nearly six years ago, but Russia dramatically increased the stakes last year when it began a campaign of air and missile strikes aimed at bolstering the Syrian regime.
A cease-fire negotiated by the two sides fell apart last month, and earlier this week the United States suspended talks with Moscow aimed at reestablishing the truce.
Since then, Syrian and Russia warplanes have conducted a devastating campaign of air strikes on rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians.
Russia in recent days has deployed S-300 antiaircraft missile systems in Syria and sent three warships to the eastern Mediterranean. Several longer-range S-400 antiaircraft systems also are in Syria and mounted on Russian warships off Syria's coast.
On October 6, amid U.S. press reports that the Pentagon had presented U.S. administration officials with options for possible air strikes against Syrian government forces, Russian defense officials warned that U.S warplanes might be at risk of being shot down.
"I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to carefully weigh possible consequences of the fulfillment of such plans," Major General Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Moscow.
The back and forth between Moscow and Washington also came as France circulated a draft United Nations resolution for a truce, a resolution that Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said was unacceptable and was politicizing the issue of humanitarian aid to Aleppo.