Doubts cast over Assad’s ceasefire intentions

Assad said that a U.N. proposal to implement a ceasefire in the embattled northern city of Aleppo was 'worth studying'

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The United States on Monday cast doubt on reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to implement a U.N. plan for local ceasefires, saying the regime had a poor record sticking to truces.

See also: Assad mulls U.N. plan to ‘freeze’ Aleppo fighting

“We certainly support ceasefires that would provide genuine relief to Syrian civilians and are consistent with humanitarian principles,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

But she added that “unfortunately many local truces achieved thus far have more closely resembled surrender arrangements, as opposed to genuine, sustainable ceasefire arrangements.”

Washington’s view “continues to be that the Assad regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this humanitarian disaster and the daily suffering of the Syrian people,” Psaki told reporters.

“We’re just cognizant of the history on some of these local ceasefires.”

Psaki also acknowledged that “we’re obviously not at the place right now where both sides are going to be back at the table” to negotiate a peace deal after the failure of Geneva talks earlier this year.

On Monday, Assad said that the U.N. envoy’s proposal to implement a ceasefire in the embattled northern city of Aleppo was “worth studying,” the Associated Press reported.

It was not immediately clear whether Assad’s remarks reflected a change in the government’s stance, or an attempt to appear open to the idea without committing to it.

The proposal would involve freezing the fighting in certain areas to allow for humanitarian aid and local steps as part of a push toward a wider peace in Syria’s 3 ½-year civil war that has killed more than 200,000.

Blind eye

In another development, the leader of the moderate Syrian opposition accused the U.S.-led coalition of having a "confused" strategy in Iraq and Syria that targeted militants but turned "a blind eye" to crimes by Assad.

“The coalition is fighting the symptom of the problem, which is ISIS (the Islamic State organisation), without addressing the main cause, which is the regime,” Syrian National Coalition President Hadi al-Bahra told The Guardian newspaper.

“People see coalition planes hitting ISIS targets but turning a blind eye to Assad's air force, which is using barrel bombs and rockets against civilian targets in Aleppo and elsewhere,” he said.

Bahra was speaking during a visit to London on Monday, during which he met with representatives of the 11 countries which support his coalition in its fight against Assad's regime.

“People feel there is a hidden agenda and cooperation between the coalition and Assad's forces because Assad assumes he has a free hand,” Bahra said.

Bahra also accused the coalition of "completely" ignoring fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"The whole operation has been confused. Air strikes will not be able to win the battle against extremism. You have to defeat ISIS on the ground," he said.

"And you have to deal with the main cause and source of extremism, which is the regime itself."

[With AFP and AP]