Secretary Kerry urges Russia, Syria to seek ceasefire in Aleppo

Ahead of renewed peace talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov there is a sense of foreboding.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday called for Russia and the Syrian regime to take steps toward finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria, urging a ceasefire and saying the fall of Aleppo would not mean an end to war.

In a strongly worded speech after a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, Kerry said the Syrian government and Russia must provide guarantees to opposition fighters in Aleppo that they won’t be “marching into a massacre” if there is a ceasefire.

The Paris meeting came ahead of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, between US and Russian officials on the situation in Aleppo, where an estimated 100,000 people are trapped in dire conditions in a shrinking rebel-held area as Syrian regime forces advance.

Speaking alongside the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Qatar, Kerry said civilians must be given safe passage out of Aleppo and humanitarian aid allowed in.

He said there “could be a way forward” but it would depend on the Syrian regime and its powerful backer, Russia, giving rebel fighters confidence they could leave Aleppo safely.

“The choice for many of them as they think about it today is: Die in Aleppo or die in Idlib, but die. That’s the way they see the choice,” he said of the opposition forces.

“And it seems to me that the (Syrian) regime and Russia have a fundamental responsibility here that if they are trying to effect a genuine transition … and a genuine cessation of hostilities to permit people to move, they need to provide guarantees and allow guarantees to be put in place that make certain that people are not marching into a massacre.”

Kerry: ‘Show a little grace’

Kerry urged both Russia and the regime to “show a little grace” to find a mediated solution, warning that if Aleppo were to fall, it would not mean an end to the war but would risk emboldening extremist forces in the country.

The secretary of state also warned the Syrian regime was committing war crimes in its bombardment of eastern Aleppo.

“The indiscriminate bombing by the regime which violates international rules of war — in many cases crimes, crimes against humanity, and war crimes — needs to stop,” he said.

“And those who support it — those in Moscow and elsewhere — should do their utmost to bring it to a close. A meaningful ceasefire needs to be reached.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad views all opposition fighters as “terrorists,” a stance that Russia shares.

Germany: No giving up on humanitarian aid

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “speechless” over the worsening situation in Aleppo.

“There are no words to describe the suffering in Aleppo and the absolute destruction of the city. The first priority must be to limit the suffering of these people,” he said. “We have attempted several times to deliver aid to the people in Aleppo and it has failed. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to give up.”

Steinmeier highlighted the plight of the Syria Civil Defense, or White Helmets, whose volunteers continue to rescue those caught up in bombings despite great risk.

And he stressed that the presence of extremist groups in Aleppo doesn’t justify the “total destruction” of a city by those fighting them.

“Even if Aleppo falls other fighting will keep happening in Syria,” he said. “We will have to hold people accountable. People who are guilty of war crimes. We will do everything to put an end to this and find a political solution.”

Following the meeting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted what he believes are the three top priorities for Syria.

First was implementing a ceasefire, stopping the bombing and establishing access to humanitarian aid.

His second priority was to define the conditions for a political transition to guarantee peace in Syria, and the third was to continue to fight terrorism, starting with the fight against ISIS.

Western Aleppo shelled

Tens of people were killed from Friday evening into Saturday in government-controlled Aleppo, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group and the state-run Syrian news agency SANA.

Twenty-five people have been killed and dozens more wounded after rebels fired mortar rounds at neighborhoods in regime-held areas of western Aleppo since Friday evening, the monitoring group said.

SANA, meanwhile, reported that 20 were killed and 165 wounded Friday and Saturday in the apparent rebel shelling of western Aleppo.

There are no numbers yet for how many have been killed Saturday in shelling and strikes on remaining rebel-held areas in eastern Aleppo.

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