Another senior U.N. official said the Russian escalation was the
main reason for the suspension of the peace talks, which have made
little progress since beginning earlier this week.
Staffan de Mistura announced a three-week pause in the Geneva talks,
the first attempt to negotiate an end to Syria's war in two years,
saying they needed immediate help from the rival sides'
international backers, principally the United States and Russia.
"I have indicated from the first day that I won't talk for the sake
of talking," the envoy, who has described the negotiations as
Syria's last hope, told reporters.
A senior U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that
De Mistura halted the talks after Russia's military escalation
undermined the negotiating process.
"I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the
(United Nations) did not want to be associated with the Russian
escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely,"
the official said.
"The stepped up air strikes gain the government ground, but also aim
at humiliating the opposition on the ground and in Geneva," he
Washington and Moscow's support for opposite sides in the
five-year-old war, which has drawn in regional states, created
millions of refugees and enabled the rise of Islamic State, means a
local conflict has become an increasingly fraught global standoff.
De Mistura has said a ceasefire is essential but Russia refused to
suspend its air strikes. They helped government forces end a
three-and-a-half year siege of the Shi’ite towns of Nubul and
al-Zahraa on Wednesday, a step towards recapturing all of Aleppo,
Syria's biggest city before the war.
"I don't see why these air strikes should be stopped," Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, saying they were targeting al
Opposition delegation co-ordinator Riad Hijab said there would be no
ceasefire until a transition without President Bashar al-Assad was
Moscow accuses Washington, which is backing opponents of Assad, of
supporting terrorists, while the U.S. State Department said the air
strikes around Aleppo focused mainly on Assad's foes rather than the
Islamic State militants Russia says it is trying to defeat.
In a statement on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
called on the Syrian government and its supporters to halt
bombardment of opposition-held areas, especially in Aleppo, and end
sieges of civilians in accordance with a U.N. Security Council
"It is past time for them to meet existing obligations and restore
the international community's confidence in their intentions of
supporting a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis," Kerry added.
The United Nations said it had been told hundreds of families had
been uprooted following "an unprecedented frequency" of air strikes
in the past two days. Three aid workers were among the dead.
Its envoy had formally opened the peace talks on Friday but both
sides denied they had ever begun.
Aleppo rebel factions, reeling from the assault, told the opposition
delegation late on Tuesday they would bring down the negotiations
within three days unless the offensive ended, a source close to the
De Mistura halted the talks until Feb. 25 at the latest after
meeting the opposition.
"I have concluded frankly that after the first week of preparatory
talks there is more work to be done, not only by us but by the
stakeholders," de Mistura said.
[to top of second column]
French Foreign Minister Fabius Laurent Fabius said his government
supported De Mistura's decision and he accused Assad and his allies
of "torpedoing" the peace effort.
The opposition's Hijab said the pause gave the West a chance to put
pressure on the Assad government and Russia to end their assault and
that he would not return until there was a change on the ground.
NO END TO RUSSIAN STRIKES
Government delegation chief Bashar al-Ja'afari accused the
opposition of pulling out of the talks because it was losing the
Developments on the ground were crucial," he said, accusing de
Mistura of providing them with political cover.
"Those who have the responsibility of this failure are the Saudis,
Turks and Qataris. They are the real handlers and masters of the
Aleppo, 50 km (30 miles) south of the Turkish border, was Syria's
most populous city before the country's descent into civil war. It
has been partitioned into zones of government and insurgent control
If the government regains control, it would be a big blow to
insurgents' hopes of toppling Assad after a war that has divided
Syria between western areas still governed from Damascus and the
rest of the country run by a patchwork of rebels.
The Levant Front rebel group said the breaking of the sieges of the
Aleppo villages of Nubul and Zahraa came only after more than 500
raids by Russian airplanes.
One commander said opposition-held areas of the divided city were at
risk of being encircled entirely by the government and allied
militia, and appealed to foreign states that back the rebels to send
Diplomats and opposition members said they were taken by surprise
when de Mistura called for immediate efforts to begin ceasefire
negotiations despite there being no official talks or goodwill
measures from the Syrian government.
The opposition has said it will not negotiate unless the government
stops bombarding civilian areas, lifts blockades on besieged towns
and releases detainees.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war,
said Russian and Syrian warplanes launched dozens of strikes on the
rebel towns of Hayan and Hreitan in northern Aleppo on Wednesday.
"Less than 3 km separate the regime from cutting all routes to
opposition-held Aleppo," Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said.
"It did in three days what it failed to do in 3-1/2 years."
(Additional reporting by Firas Makdesi, Cecile Mantovani, Kinda
Makieh and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Mariam Karouny, Tom Perry
and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Beirut, Fatma Al Arini in Muscat, Louis
Charbonneau in New York, and Eric Walsh in Washington; Writing by
Andrew Roche and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Toni Reinhold and
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