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Kerry Says Russia Violating UN Cease-Fire But May Soon Comply

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia and Syria are violating a UN cease-fire mandate but may soon stop.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia and Syria are violating a UN cease-fire mandate but may soon stop.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia and Syria have been violating a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire in the civil war, but talks are under way to resolve the problem and revive peace negotiations.

"Russia has indicated to me very directly they are prepared to do a cease-fire," Kerry told reporters in Washington on February 5. "The Iranians confirmed in London just a day and a half ago they will support a cease-fire now."

"The modalities of a cease-fire itself are also being discussed and the Russians have made some constructive ideas about how a cease-fire in fact could be implemented," Kerry said.

"But if it's just talks for the sake of talks in order to continue the bombing, nobody is going to accept that, and we will know that in the course of the next days."

Peace talks sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva were halted on February 3 after the Syrian Army, backed by Russian air strikes, advanced against rebel forces north of Aleppo, choking off humanitarian supply lines to civilians.

The Syrian government's offensive continued through February 6 with no evidence of any let-up in the fighting, which has forced more than 35,000 civilians who have fled Aleppo to congregate on the Turkish border.

The Geneva talks were the first attempt to negotiate an end to the Syrian war in two years. Syrian opposition groups were unwilling to negotiate as long as the government kept bombarding civilian areas.

Kerry said Russia and Assad are not in compliance with a UN Security Council resolution approved in December, which calls for immediate humanitarian access to civilians and an end to aerial and artillery bombardment of civilians.

Moreover, he said there was evidence that Russia was using "dumb" bombs, resulting in mass civilian deaths around Aleppo.

"They are not precision bombs, and there are civilians, including women and children, being killed in large numbers as a consequence," he said.

He also accused Russia of targeting hospitals and returning to bomb people rescuing those wounded in earlier air strikes.

"This has to stop," Kerry said, "Nobody has any question about that. But it's not going to stop just by whining about it. It's not going to stop by walking away from the table or not engaging," he said.

"The next days will tell the story of whether or not people are serious or people are not serious" about carrying out a cease-fire and allowing humanitarian access to civilians, he said.

Kerry travels to Munich next week for talks with Russia, Iran, and other parties involved in the Syrian conflict.

Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, said Moscow plans to "bring some new ideas to the table" at the Munich meeting to try to move the peace process forward.

Speaking to reporters in New York after a tense, closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on the breakdown in the peace talks, Churkin said Russia will not stop bombing unilaterally. He noted that the United States and its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition also have been bombing in Syria.

"What about this American-led coalition? Are they going to stop, too?" he asked.

Russia has insisted its air strikes are aimed at IS and Al-Nusra, Syria's Al-Qaeda affliliate, and says the peace talks should proceed even while such fighting continues on the ground.

But France's UN ambassador, Francois Delatte, said the peace negotiations "cannot be a smoke screen allowing the regime to continue quietly its massacres."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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