Kerry: Assad won’t ‘benefit’ if new truce violated

Kerry warned Assad of ‘repercussions’ if his regime flouts a new truce being negotiated with Moscow for the battered city of Aleppo

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US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday of “repercussions” if his regime flouts a new ceasefire being negotiated with Moscow for the battered city of Aleppo.

“If Assad does not adhere to this, there will clearly be repercussions and one of them may be the total destruction of the ceasefire and they go back to war,” Kerry told reporters.

“I don’t think that Russia wants that. I don’t think that Assad is going to benefit from that,” he said.

“There may be even other repercussions that are being discussed but that is for the future to determine.”

A Feb. 27 truce between the Syrian regime and non-militant rebels raised hopes for efforts to resolve the five-year conflict.

But it has all but collapsed amid renewed fighting, the worst of it in Aleppo where a surge in violence has claimed more than 270 lives since April 22.

Washington and Moscow are now working together to include Aleppo in a freeze in fighting aimed at bolstering the broader truce brokered by both world powers.

“The cessation of hostilities was put in place precisely to give the people on the ground who are innocently caught between these warring factions some breather, some ability to be able to be safe and work this out at the negotiating table,” Kerry said.

“That is why we are working urgently right now to reaffirm the cessation of hostilities nationwide.”

Russia said Tuesday it hoped a new ceasefire could be announced within hours for Aleppo.

Kerry also condemned a deadly hospital attack in Aleppo. He says the missile appears to have been fired from rebel-controlled territory.

Kerry says the US won’t accept violence against civilians, whether it’s by the Syrian government or by Western-backed opposition.

At least 20 people died Tuesday when rocket fire struck the maternity hospital in a government-held section of Aleppo. Fighting there has all but shattered the shaky 2-month-old truce between Syria’s government and moderate rebels.

Earlier, the Syrian army said rebel groups had launched a widespread attack in Aleppo on Tuesday and bombarded civilian areas with rockets, killing and wounding a number of people and hitting a hospital.

The army was making "the appropriate response to the sources of fire", a statement from the army command said. It accused groups including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaish al-Islam of being behind the attacks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had fired rockets and shells on government-controlled western districts of the city throughout the day.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said a cessation of hostilities in Syria must be "brought back on track" as he held talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

In televised remarks, de Mistura praised the truce brokered by Moscow and Washington as a "remarkable achievement" and said the two global powers should help "all of us to make sure that this is brought back on track".

Meanwhile, heavy air strikes throughout the night on ISIS’s de facto Syria capital Raqqa killed at least 13 civilians and five militants, the Observatory said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had no immediate word on whether the strikes were carried out by the Damascus regime, its ally Moscow or the US-led coalition battling ISIS.

"Raqqa has not been targeted by air raids of this intensity for several weeks," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"These raids continued throughout the night and into the morning."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged Russia and the United States to put Syria’s ceasefire back on track and stressed that new truce arrangements in place for two areas must be extended to Aleppo.

Heavy air strikes hit rebel-held east Aleppo in the early hours of Monday, days after the United States and Russia announced plans to reinforce the February 27 truce in Latakia and Damascus regions.

Ban is “profoundly concerned about the dangerous escalation of fighting in and around Aleppo and the intolerable suffering, counted in mounting deaths and destruction, it is causing among civilians,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The UN chief noted the re-launch of the cessation of hostilities in Damascus and Latakia and stressed “the need to expand these arrangements to other parts of Syria, with a special urgency for Aleppo.”

The appeal came on the eve of talks between Ban’s envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on the collapsing ceasefire.

‘New initiatives’

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the state of the ceasefire in Syria and that a new initiative was needed to keep dialogue alive, after a sharp escalation of violence in the city of Aleppo.

“There is a need for a new initiative in the Syria dialogue to keep it alive, the Syrian moderate opposition is finding it increasingly difficult to justify their participation in a political process,” Hammond told reporters during a visit to Mexico City.

More than 270,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests demanding that leader Bashar al-Assad step down.

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