US, Western leaders calling for immediate Aleppo cease-fire

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2016 12:58 PM
US, Western leaders calling for immediate Aleppo cease-fire

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and five other Western powers called Wednesday for an immediate cease-fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo and accused Russia of blocking efforts to halt the bloodshed.

In a joint statement, the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the U.S. demanded that Syria's government address the humanitarian crisis by allowing United Nations aid in to eastern Aleppo. They said the U.N. should investigate reports of war crimes committed in Syria.

"We condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and its foreign backers, especially Russia, for their obstruction of humanitarian aid," the leaders said, adding that hospitals and schools appeared to have been targeted "in an attempt to wear people down."

The display of diplomatic unity appeared intended to build support for a five-day cease-fire for eastern Aleppo that several Syrian rebel groups proposed Wednesday in hopes of allowing civilians to flee, including the sick and wounded.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the statement was not in response to any existing proposals to address the violence, but was drafted to demonstrate "clear, unified, international support" for a diplomatic arrangement to reduce bloodshed and allow humanitarian aid to flow.

The calls for a pause in fighting have grown more urgent as Syrian government troops and their allies push deeper into Aleppo, forcing rebels to retreat and civilians to leave their homes.

Syria's government and Russia rejected a previous cease-fire for Aleppo while continuing to try to oust rebels from the city. The top U.S. and Russian diplomats planned to discuss the crisis further during talks Wednesday in Germany.

The Western leaders reserved some of their harshest condemnation for Russia, the Syrian government's strongest ally. They charged that Moscow was blocking action at the U.N. Security Council intended to stem the violence.

The Syrian government's "refusal to engage in a serious political process also highlights the unwillingness of both Russia and Iran to work for a political solution despite their assurances to the contrary," the leaders said.

Earnest said Russia "bears a special responsibility" to help achieve a diplomatic solution because of its support for the Syrian government.