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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US, Russia Seek Localized Cease-fires in Syria

by Esha Sarai, Pamela Dockins April 29, 2016

With Syria's February cease-fire showing signs of fraying, the United States and Russia have announced plans to try to reinforce localized cease-fires in the coastal province of Latakia as well the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.

A Syrian government statement said the truce would begin at 1 a.m. local time Saturday (2200 UTC Friday) and last for 24 hours in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta. It said a similar arrangement in Latakia province was expected to last for 72 hours.

About 230 civilians are believed to have been killed in fighting between the government and the rebels during the last week in Aleppo, which was Syria's most populous city before civil war broke out five years ago.

Among those killed were at least 50 people in a hospital that was hit in an overnight airstrike.

"It is our view that this, essentially, would be a refreshment of the cessation of hostilities and getting both sides to commit to refreshing the commitments that they made," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed details of the plan Friday. However, officials said, talks on the renewed cessation had been underway for some time.

Officials said the U.S., Russia and other members of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group would use their influence with either the Syrian regime or the opposition to try to get both sides to comply.

A senior State Department official said that in focusing on quelling unrest in Latakia and Eastern Ghouta, the escalating violence in Aleppo was not being ignored.

"There should not be any thinking that anything was set aside," the official said in a Friday briefing.

"We have moved forward on what we were able to move forward with right now," the official added, saying negotiators hoped to be able to make progress on Aleppo as soon as possible.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the plans for Latakia and Eastern Ghouta would test the commitment that all parties made to the initial cessation of hostilities.

"This is a recommitment and it is a test for the Russians, for the regime as well as for the opposition," he said.

Rebels continued to hit government-controlled neighborhoods in Aleppo with rocket and artillery fire Friday. State media said a direct hit on a mosque killed 15 people and wounded 30.

The Syrian government also kept up its bombing raids. Civil defense officials said the regime's airstrikes hit a well-known medical clinic, wounding several people, just over 24 hours after similar raids destroyed a hospital in Aleppo.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said 50 people, including six of its staff members, were killed when the al-Quds Hospital in the rebel-held Sukkari district was destroyed by airstrikes late Wednesday night.

Kerry, speaking in Washington, said targeting of the hospital appeared to have been "deliberate." There was no clear account about whose planes were involved, but reports from Aleppo said they were either Russian or Syrian aircraft.

More than 80 international and Syrian NGOs signed a statement Friday demanding that Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin respond to U.N. appeals to try to stop the bloodshed.

"These atrocities are happening on your watch," the statement said, addressing the two presidents by name. "Please heed the call of the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria to take urgent steps to rescue Syria's cessation of hostilities [the partial, ineffective truce that began several weeks ago] and end attacks on civilians. Please act now to keep hope alive for Syrians."

Doctors' letter

Doctors in Aleppo issued a separate open letter to Putin and Obama mourning the death of the city's last pediatrician, one of at least 730 doctors and nurses killed in the civil war.

"Soon there will be no medical professionals at all left in Aleppo. Where will civilians turn to for care and attention?" the letter asked.

From Geneva, U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said this week's violence in Syria showed a "monstrous disregard for civilians' lives by all parties to the conflict."

Rebels demanding the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the government troops opposing them control separate parts of Aleppo, and portions of the surrounding province are in the hands of numerous other fighters, including members of al-Qaida and the Islamic State terrorist group.

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