Russia and the United States will host a foreign minister meeting about the Syria war Saturday in Switzerland, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday.
It will be the first high-level, face-to-face diplomacy between Russia and the U.S. on the conflict since efforts to revive a collapsed cease-fire ended in acrimony more than a week ago when the U.S. suspended them.
A statement posted on Russia's Foreign Ministry website said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would jointly host Saturday's meeting in the Swiss city of Lausanne. The statement said participants would include "a number of key countries in the region to consider possible further steps to create conditions for the settlement of the Syrian crisis."
John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, confirmed in a statement that Kerry would participate in the Lausanne meeting "with key regional partners" Saturday and that Kerry would attend another meeting in London on Sunday "with key regional and international partners" concerning Syria. The statement said the purpose was to "discuss a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries."
Neither the Russian nor U.S. statements specified which other countries would be represented.
Western officials said the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia would attend the Lausanne meeting. They also raised the possibility that Iran might participate.
The Turks, Qataris and Saudis are U.S. allies, backing an assortment of Syrian rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Russia and Iran, Assad's principal military supporters, contend that they are helping the Syrian government battle terrorists.
A spokesman for Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, said he was invited but did not comment further.
The U.S. and its allies have accused the Russians and Syrians of war crimes over the relentless bombing of insurgent redoubts in the northern city of Aleppo, which has left hundreds of civilians dead including many children. Russia and Syria have rejected the accusations.
The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over how to respond to the Aleppo crisis, and the U.S. and Russia have failed to reach an agreement on renewing the short-lived cease-fire.
International aid groups and U.N. agencies have appealed for a halt to the violence to allow aid into the besieged territory. No assistance has entered Aleppo since July, while hospitals, medical facilities and rescue vehicles have all come under attack.
On Saturday, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution, sponsored by France, that was aimed at reviving the cease-fire and allowing humanitarian access to civilian victims, part of a broader Western diplomatic effort to embarrass the Russians.
President Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia won't give in to "blackmail and pressure" over its military offensive in Syria and accused the U.S. and its allies of whipping up "anti-Russian hysteria."
The French-proposed Security Council resolution on Syria was set up to provoke Russia's veto and worsen the situation, Putin said at an investor forum in Moscow on Wednesday. By sponsoring the proposal, France has served U.S. domestic needs, Putin added.
France proposed its resolution "to get this veto" in order "to escalate the situation and whip up anti-Russian hysteria" in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaign, Putin said. "This is a type of behavior in the international arena which is called pressure and blackmail, which Russia has never given in to and won't."
Putin on Wednesday accused the U.S. presidential candidates of using anti-Russian rhetoric to bolster their support in next month's election, a decision that is "poisoning" relations between the two countries. At the same time, he reiterated that Russia is willing to work with any U.S. leader who is willing to cooperate with it.
On Wednesday, an airstrike hit the biggest market on the rebel-held side of Aleppo, killing at least 15 people and leveling buildings as rescuers were still sifting the rubble from air raids that killed dozens the day before.
Activists and a witness said the early-afternoon strike destroyed several shops in the besieged eastern part of the city, which has been the target of a Russian-backed Syrian offensive since the collapse of a cease-fire last month.
The latest strikes have shattered a relative three-day lull in the area, where hospitals, underground shelters and buildings had been targeted for weeks.
On Tuesday, Russian or Syrian aircraft bombed several neighborhoods, killing at least 41 people, including five children, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer first responders, and the activist-run Aleppo Media Center. Both groups said 15 people were killed in Wednesday's strike.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of contacts in Syria, gave lower tolls for the attacks but said they were likely to rise. Varying reports of casualties are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria.
Dr. Farida, a gynecologist whose clinic is in the market, said it was not clear what the aircraft were targeting. She asked that her last name not be published because of security concerns.
"Many stores totally disappeared. I can't find a trace of a mini-market I used to buy things from," she said, adding that at least five buildings have been destroyed.
"The destruction is horrible," she said. "The rubble has piled up, and the roads are cut."
The Observatory said Wednesday that at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since a U.S. and Russian-brokered truce collapsed on Sept. 19. The U.N. says more than 100 children have been killed in the campaign, which has also included a limited ground offensive.
Syria Civil Defense workers pulled at least one boy alive from under the rubble Tuesday amid cheers from onlookers. The 13-year-old boy, Jamil Habboush, emerged covered in dust and dazed from the flattened building, gripping his rescuer tightly.
His mother survived but remains in critical condition, said Ibrahim al-Haj, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense, which is also known as the White Helmets. The boy had lost his father and brother in previous bombings, al-Haj said.
The fighting in Aleppo has eclipsed violence across other parts of Syria.
Syrian forces Wednesday pounded the opposition-held eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as Ghouta, including a series of airstrikes on Saqba, Arbeen and Kfarbatna. The Observatory reported that one person was killed and three wounded in Kfarbatna, while 10 were wounded in Saqba. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition media collective, also reported the airstrikes, saying they resulted in a number of casualties.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that mortar shells fired Wednesday by rebels on residential areas in the capital wounded a child and damaged public and private property. On Tuesday, 30 people were wounded by rocket and mortar rounds that slammed into residential neighborhoods in Damascus.
The news agency also said five people were killed and 13 wounded Wednesday by mortar shells fired by "terrorist groups" on several neighborhoods in Aleppo.
The Syria war, now in its sixth year, has left an estimated 500,000 people dead and half of the country's population displaced.
Information for this article was contributed by Rick Gladstone, Michael R. Gordon and Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times; by Ilya Arkhipov, Andrey Biryukov, Henry Meyer, Irina Reznik, Anna Andrianova, Nick Wadhams and Justin Sink of Bloomberg News; and by Sarah El Deeb, Jamey Keaten and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.
A Section on 10/13/2016
Print Headline: Nations to hold session on Syria