Moscow vows to press Syria offensive; U.S. weighs tough response


The Kremlin vowed on Thursday to press on with its assault in Syria, while Washington searched for a tougher response to Russia’s decision to ignore the peace process in favor of a military victory.

Moscow and Damascus launched an assault to recapture the rebel-held sector of Aleppo this month, abandoning a new ceasefire a week after it took effect. Damascus has embarked on what could be the biggest battle in Syria’s nearly six-year war.

Rebel fighters have launched an advance of their own in the countryside near the central city of Hama. On Thursday, Rebels announced that they had seized more than 20 villages and towns.

The United States and the European Union accuse Russia of torpedoing diplomacy to pursue military victory in Aleppo and say that Moscow and Damascus are guilty of war crimes for targeting civilians, hospitals and aid workers. The US and the EU believe that Russian air force is attacking these soft targets in order to break the will of 250,000 people living under siege inside Syria’s largest city.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, called the air strikes in Aleppo a “massacre” and said European governments were considering their response. The Russian and Syrian governments say that they are only targeting militants.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who personally negotiated the failed truce in talks with Russia, has said Washington could walk away from diplomacy unless the fighting stops.

Secretary Kerry has called for a halt to flights, a step rejected by Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that Russia would “continue the operation of its air force in support of the anti-terrorist activity of Syria’s armed forces.”

Peskov said Washington was to blame for the fighting because the US failed to meet an obligation to separate “moderate” rebel fighters from terrorists.

“In general, we express regret at the rather non-constructive nature of the rhetoric voiced by Washington in the past days,” Peskov said.

US officials are considering tougher responses to the Syrian government’s assault, including military options. The officials admitted that the range of possible responses is limited and say that risky measures like air strikes on Syrian targets or sending US jets to escort aid are unlikely.

Recapturing Aleppo would be the biggest victory of the war for government forces, and a potential turning point in a conflict that until now most outside countries had said would never be won by force.

Source: Reuters and ARA News