US demands halt to bombardment of Aleppo city by Syrian government forces

Despite several days of deadly attacks, US Secretary of State John Kerry says he is hopeful that he and other parties can extend a truce to the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.
Video captured on CCTV appears to show the impact of last week's air strike on a hospital in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which killed more than 50 people.
Smoke rises after airstrikes on the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, on April 29, 2016.
Smoke rises after airstrikes on the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, on April 29, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Saturday (April 30) demanded that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's forces halt their bombardment of the city of Aleppo and help restore a nationwide ceasefire.

In calls to the UN peace envoy for Syria and to the lead opposition negotiator, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the priority was "a durable, nationwide cessation".

A truce was called in February between Mr Assad's forces and a coalition of rebels but has since begun to break down, particularly in the divided and besieged city of Aleppo.

This week, Russia and the United States agreed to pressure the parties to hold their fire in the Latakia and Eastern Ghouta regions - but Aleppo was left out of the deal.

Fierce bombing has continued in the city, with heavy civilian casualties, and Russia has made it clear it has no intention of reining in its ally Mr Assad's forces.

With the peace process hanging by a thread, Mr Kerry was to fly to Geneva on Sunday for talks with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and the Saudi and Jordanian foreign ministers.

But first, he used his calls to emphasize that Washington has not conceded the idea Aleppo can be excluded from the ceasefire nor that civilians can be targeted.

In calls to Mr De Mistura and the general coordinator of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee Riad Hijab, Mr Kerry expressed "deep concern" about Aleppo.

"The secretary made clear that ending the violence in Aleppo and returning ultimately to a durable, nationwide cessation is a top priority," spokesman John Kirby said.

In the calls, Mr Kerry dismissed the Russian and regime claim that the Aleppo strikes are targeting the Al-Nusra Front, a militant force that is not party to the ceasefire.

"The secretary made clear that we urged Russia to take steps to stop regime violations, especially its indiscriminate aerial attacks in Aleppo," Mr Kirby said.

"The Assad regime continues to escalate the conflict by predominantly targeting innocent civilians and parties to the cessation of hostilities - not Nusra, as the regime falsely claims.

"Such attacks are direct violations of the cessation and must stop immediately," he declared.

"The secretary underscored that the initial efforts to reaffirm the cessation of hostilities in Latakia and Eastern Ghouta are not limited to these two areas and that efforts to renew the cessation must and do include Aleppo."

Once Syria's economic hub, Aleppo has suffered some of the worst fighting in a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.