The top U.S. diplomat and his Russian counterpart are meeting in Switzerland Saturday in an attempt to broker a deal to resurrect the peace process in Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are convening in Lausanne where they will strive to bring an end to the weeks-long attacks on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo that has been bombarded with government and Russian-backed airstrikes. Lavrov said Friday, however, he had no “special expectations” for the latest round of diplomatic talks.
Prominent international charities called Saturday for a 72-hour cease-fire in Aleppo’s eastern neighborhood, the target of the airstrikes, to allow the sick and wounded to be evacuated, and for food and medical aid to enter the besieged area.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in Aleppo, which has seemingly become ground zero in Syria’s five-year war. Rebels control the east while the Syrian military holds the rest of the city.
The U.S. and its Western allies accuse Russia and its Syrian allies of war crimes for bombing hospitals and U.N. relief convoys in and around Aleppo as they target Syrian rebels looking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria and Russia say they are only targeting militants. While targeting the opposition with bombs, Syrian and Russian forces have been hitting civilians, including many children.
Russia denies attacking civilians, saying its only targets are “terrorists,” the word Russia and Syria use when talking about the opposition.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with his national security team Friday to discuss Syria. The White House said in a statement that even though bilateral talks with Russia have been suspended, multi-lateral discussions with “key nations” are needed to “encourage all sides to support a more durable and sustainable diminution of violence.”
The foreign ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, and the U.N. Syrian envoy will also attend the meeting in Switzerland.
Warplanes belonging to Russia and the Syrian government conducted a massive air raid on targets in rebel-held areas of Aleppo Thursday night into Friday morning, according to a monitor group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday morning that dozens of airstrikes hit eastern Aleppo overnight, and while the airstrikes ended by mid-morning, skirmishes continued around the northern and southern edges of the city.
It is not clear how many people were killed as rescue teams continue to search for victims under the rubble of destroyed buildings.