Russia announced a last minute 48-hour ceasefire for Syria’s war-torn Aleppo late Wednesday, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, and Russia of selectively enforcing a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” agreement while a regime campaign to retake the northern province continued unabated.
Aleppo has been ravaged on multiple fronts in a devastating war that has killed more than 280,000 people.
Dozens of fighters were killed in a fresh bout of fighting between the regime, rebels, and jihadists south of Aleppo city on Wednesday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Speaking in Oslo, where he met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif for talks on Syria and the Iran nuclear deal, Kerry said Assad’s forces had not abided by the truce for a single day in Aleppo.
“Unless we get a better definition of how this cessation is going to work … we are not going to sit there while Assad continues to offensively assault Aleppo and while Russia continues to support in that effort,” Kerry told a news conference.
“The United States is not going to sit there and be used as an instrument that permits a so-called ceasefire to be in place while one principal party is trying to take advantage of it to the detriment of the entire process,” he added.
Backed by Russian and government air strikes, pro-regime fighters are locked in battle with rebel groups and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front for a string of villages lying in hilly terrain between strategic routes.
“On Russia’s initiative, a ‘regime of silence’ has been introduced in Aleppo for 48 hours from 00:01 16 June (2101 GMT Wednesday) with the goal of lowering the level of armed violence and stabilizing the situation,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement.
The statement did not specify who Russia has discussed the two-day ceasefire with.
It accused al-Nusra of attacking various Aleppo neighborhoods with multiple rocket launchers, as well as mounting a tank attack southwest of the city.
“Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite, in fact it is very limited with whether or not Assad is going to be held accountable,” said Kerry.
“We also are prepared to hold accountable members of the opposition,” he added.
U.N.-hosted peace talks aimed at ending the conflict have been stalled since April, and a fragile ceasefire deal between the government and non-jihadist rebels has all but collapsed.
“It is very clear that the cessation of hostilities is frayed and at risk and that it is critical for a genuine cessation to be put in place,” said Kerry.