Syria’s continuing humanitarian disaster seen in child’s face

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( – As the United States, Russia and the rest of the international community continue their Syrian ceasefire discussions, the slaughter of civilians continues in Aleppo, with Russian jets unloading bombs over the city again this week.

On Wednesday, a five-year-boy became the face of the worsening humanitarian disaster, as he was videotaped climbing into an ambulance in Aleppo, his face bloodied. A still photo from that video, printed Thursday in British newspapers, comes from the Aleppo Media Center, which said the boy was inside a building hit from the air on Wednesday.

In Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Russia was “exacerbating what is already a very dangerous situation … by using Iranian air bases as a way to carry out more intensive bombing runs that continue to hit civilian populations.

“And so our concerns remain very vivid,” Toner continued. “And, you know, we’re trying to remain focused on, specifically with Aleppo, but on a broader scale, trying to get a cessation of hostilities back in place in Syria. And this (Russian bombing) doesn’t help it.”

Toner noted that Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in support of the Assad regime “for months now.”

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday spoke with the Russian foreign minister, and Toner said the focus of their conversation was on “how do we get past the current challenges in our efforts with Russia to coordinate on a credible, nationwide cease-fire, access to humanitarian assistance, and getting the Geneva talks back up and running.

“So, you know, we’ve been very clear about not getting too much into the details of what those remaining challenges are. The secretary has addressed this before…But that was really the focus of the conversation was, you know, we continue to talk with the Russians. We continue to work through some of the issues that we have, some of our concerns. And indeed, they have concerns as well that they can speak to or not.”

A reporter told Toner, “The secretary-general of the U.N. warned that Aleppo could become a catastrophe; I think he’s used this language a lot of times before. But regardless, he called specifically on the U.S. and Russia to agree on this cease-fire as soon as possible. What’s the hold up?” he asked.

“Well, we want to get there, but that doesn’t mean, you know, conceding to a bad arrangement,” Toner replied.

“We have certain issues that we want resolved before we can enter into that kind of coordination mechanism with Russia. We’ve been very clear about that. We believe we can get there, and we continue to work at it.

“But to speak to the U.N. secretary-general’s comments, you’re right. He’s said it before and we’ve said it before, we needed full humanitarian access (to Aleppo) immediately, yesterday, two days ago, a week ago. And we don’t have it.

“You know, what we’ve seen are half-steps and half-measures by Russia — opening three-hours corridors or three-hour windows where humanitarian assistance can be delivered. Frankly, the U.N. has said that it doesn’t work.

“So we’re equally alarmed by the worsening situation in Aleppo. I don’t think anybody cannot be. And we need to — we want to get to a place where we can get the violence in and around Aleppo to cease.”

The Obama administration insists that a political solution — including the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — is only way to stop the civil war in Syria.

The United States, Russia and Iran are among the members of the International Syria Support Group, which issued a statement in May, reaffirming the ISSG’s “determination to strengthen the Cessation of Hostilities, to ensure full and sustained humanitarian access in Syria, and to ensure progress toward a peaceful political transition.”

On Wednesday, Toner noted that “everyone who has signed up to the ISSG has at least claimed to support a political solution and a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria.”

But Russian and Iran support the Syrian regime, and as Toner said, they “have their own motives and their own positions” on how to end the fighting.

“But that’s part of what we’re trying to do here, through diplomacy, is reach consensus and then move forward with that. It’s all we can do right now — that’s the mechanism we have in front of us, and so ultimately, we’ve talked about this, if Iran and Russia continually prove, or continually — continue rather, to disregard those efforts, then I think at some point we have to reach a different assessment, but at this point we’re not ready to go there yet.”

President Obama in June reaffirmed his “continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities” in Syria.  He also admitted that the cessation has not stopped “all or even most” of the hardship on civilians. And he said the Assad regime is the main culprit in violating the fragile ceasefire.

“But as fragile and incomplete as the cessation is, it has saved lives and it has allowed the delivery of some lifesaving aid to Syrians who are in desperate need.  And as difficult as it is, we will continue to push for a political process that can end the civil war and result in a transition away from Assad,” Obama said.

At a news conference earlier this month, Obama said the defeat of ISIL and al Qaeda won’t happen until Syria’s civil war ends. He said the Assad regime’s “brutality against the Syrian people” is pushing people “into the arms of extremists.”

“The regime and its allies continue to violate the Cessation of Hostilities, including with vicious attacks on defenseless civilians, medieval sieges against cities like Aleppo, and blocking food from reaching families that are starving. It is deplorable,” Obama said.

“Russia’s direct involvement in these actions over the last several weeks raises very serious questions about their commitment to pulling the situation back from the brink. The U.S. remains prepared to work with Russia to try to reduce the violence and strengthen our efforts against ISIL and al Qaeda in Syria. But so far, Russia has failed to take the necessary steps.  Given the deteriorating situation, it is time for Russia to show that it is serious about pursuing these objectives.”

Obama noted that he’s been “wrestling” with the situation in Syria for years: “I am pretty confident that a big chunk of my gray hair comes out of my Syria meetings.  And there is not a meeting that I don’t end by saying, is there something else we could be doing that we haven’t thought of?  Is there a plan F, G, H that we think would lead to a resolution of this issue so that the Syrian people can put their lives back together and we can bring peace and relieve the refugee crisis that’s taken place?

“And the options are limited when you have a civil war like this, when you have a ruler who doesn’t care about his people, when you’ve got terrorist organizations that are brutal and would impose their own kind of dictatorship on people, and you have a moderate opposition and ordinary civilians who are often outgunned and outmanned.  And that’s a very difficult situation to deal with.  But we’ve got to give it a chance.”

— Written by Susan Jones