U.S. ac­cuses Rus­sia, Syria of war crimes; France seeks U.N. vote

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bradley Klapper

WASH­ING­TON >> The United States called Fri­day for a war crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sia and Syria, ramp­ing up the rhetoric against Moscow for its part in a deadly mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in Aleppo while po­ten­tially mak­ing it harder to restart diplo­matic ef­forts to end the con­flict.

Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said Syr­ian forces hit a hos­pi­tal overnight, killing 20 peo­ple and wound­ing 100, de­scrib­ing what would be the lat­est strike by Rus­sia or its ally in Da­m­as­cus on a civil­ian tar­get. A spokesman said the at­tack oc­curred Thurs­day out­side Da­m­as­cus, while hu­man rights group ac­cuse the pair of killing thou­sands in their as­sault on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

“Rus­sia and the regime owe the world more than an ex­pla­na­tion about why they keep hit­ting hospi­tals and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, and chil­dren and women,” Kerry told re­porters along­side French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Marc Ayrault, who ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton di­rectly from meet­ing Rus­sian of­fi­cials in Moscow.

“These are acts that beg for an ap­pro­pri­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion of war crimes,” Kerry said. “They’re be­yond the ac­ci­den­tal now, way be­yond, years be­yond the ac­ci­den­tal. This is a tar­geted strat­egy to ter­ror­ize civil­ians and to kill any­body and ev­ery­body who is in the way of their mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives.”

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said Kerry was try­ing to di­vert at­ten­tion from Amer­ica’s fail­ure to up­hold a cease-fire in Syria.

“Kerry used these words from the point of view of fan­ning ten­sions,” spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said. “As long as war crimes are at ques­tion, the Amer­i­cans should start with Iraq. And then look at Libya and Ye­men to see what is go­ing on there.”

The U.S. has lit­tle chance of be­ing able to ini­ti­ate a war crimes probe of ei­ther Rus­sia or Syria. Rus­sia has veto power at the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and has blocked re­peated at­tempts over the last 5½ years to put pres­sure on Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s govern­ment or hold it ac­count­able for the wide­spread al­le­ga­tions of in­dis­crim­i­nate killing, tor­ture and chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks.

Ayrault spoke of a new French ef­fort for a cease­fire in Syria that would in­clude a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote on Satur­day. But it’s un­clear what ad­van­tages his plan would have over the U.S.-Rus­sian led process that col­lapsed last month.

Kerry’s Sept. 9 agree­ment with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov would have cre­ated a new coun­tert­er­ror­ism al­liance in Syria, had fight­ing stopped for a week and aid de­liv­er­ies been per­mit­ted to reach des­per­ate civil­ians in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and other be­sieged ar­eas. Nei­ther con­di­tion was ever met.

The truce then shat­tered com­pletely when Syria and Rus­sia re­newed their mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in Aleppo. Kerry ended bi­lat­eral dis­cus­sions with Rus­sia on the mil­i­tary part­ner­ship ear­lier this week.

Speak­ing in English, Ayrault called Syria a “hu­man tragedy” that de­mands ev­ery ef­fort to restart a peace ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Switch­ing to French, he said Satur­day would be a “mo­ment of truth” at the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. He said the ques­tion that will be posed to ev­ery­one, but par­tic­u­larly to Rus­sia, is: “Do you, yes or no, want a cease­fire in Aleppo?”

Such a cease-fire would be “open to dis­cus­sion,” but Ayrault said two de­mands were ab­so­lute. “The first one is the cease-fire and no fly zone over Aleppo,” he said. “And the sec­ond pil­lar is ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. We’re not giv­ing up.”

At the cur­rent rate of fight­ing, Ayrault lamented, “Aleppo will be to­tally de­stroyed by Christ­mas.”

Rus­sia will al­most surely veto the French mea­sure.

“I can­not pos­si­bly see how we can let this res­o­lu­tion pass,” Rus­sia’s U.N. Am­bas­sador Vi­taly Churkin told re­porters Fri­day.

The war has killed as many as a half-mil­lion peo­ple since 2011, con­trib­uted to Europe’s worst refugee cri­sis since World War II and al­lowed the Is­lamic State group to carve out ter­ri­tory for it­self and emerge as a global ter­ror threat.

Given the range of mil­i­tant groups, ex­trem­ists and out­side pow­ers now fight­ing in Syria, the orig­i­nal con­test be­tween As­sad’s govern­ment and so-called “mod­er­ate” op­po­si­tion forces has proven stub­bornly dif­fi­cult to quell.

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