The United States and the United Nations on Thursday condemned an air strike on a hospital in Syria’s Aleppo, with Washington demanding that Russia restrain its Syrian ally.
UN officials also voiced alarm at the “catastrophic deterioration” of the situation in Syria and appealed on world powers to salvage a February 27 truce.
But in Aleppo, fighting on Thursday between rebels and regime forces killed 53 civilians — the highest toll for a single day in a week of violence that has cost more than 200 lives, according to a monitor.
The Syrian army was meanwhile poised to launch an offensive against rebels who control part of the northern city.
Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “outrage” over Wednesday’s air strike that hit Al-Quds field hospital in Aleppo’s rebel-held Sukkari neighborhood.
He said it appeared to be “a deliberate strike on a known medical facility” and said Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, must restrain the Damascus regime.
“Russia has an urgent responsibility to press the regime to fulfill its commitments under UNSCR 2254, including in particular to stop attacking civilians, medical facilities, and first responders, and to abide fully by the cessation of hostilities,” Kerry said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called attacks that target civilians “inexcusable” violations of humanitarian law.
“There must be accountability for these crimes,” he said.
The city’s last remaining pediatrician and three children were among the 20 people killed in the air strike overnight on the hospital, which was supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
A civil defense group known as the White Helmets said 30 people were killed in the strike on the hospital and a nearby block of flats. It said there were still victims buried under the rubble and that the rescue work continued.
The chief Syrian opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush blamed the Assad government for the deadly airstrikes. He said the latest violence by government forces shows “the environment is not conducive to any political action.”
— MSF International (@MSF) April 28, 2016
Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, said in a series of tweets that at least 14 patients and staff were among those killed, with the toll expected to rise.
“Destroyed MSF-supported hospital in Aleppo was well known locally and hit by direct airstrike on Wednesday,” it said.
A video posted online by the White Helmets showed a number of lifeless bodies, including those of children, being pulled out from a building and loaded into ambulances amid screaming and wailing. It also showed distraught rescue workers trying to keep onlookers away from the scene, apparently fearing more airstrikes.
Alloush, who was one of the leading negotiators of the opposition in the Geneva talks, described the airstrikes as one of the latest “war crimes” of Assad’s government.
“Whoever carries out these massacres needs a war tribunal and a court of justice to be tried for his crimes. He does not need a negotiating table,” Alloush told the AP in a telephone interview. “Now, the environment is not conducive for any political action.”
The February 27 ceasefire has been fraying in the past weeks as casualty figures from violence mount, particularly in Aleppo and across northern Syria. Airstrikes earlier this week also targeted a training center for the Syrian Civil Defense, leaving five of its team dead in rural Aleppo.
Since April 19, nearly 200 people have died, including at least 44 in an airstrike on a market place in rebel-held area in northern Idlib province, as well as dozens of civilians in government-held areas from rebel shelling.
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, briefed the UN Security Council via videoconference about the largely stalled indirect talks between the Western- and Saudi-backed opposition and envoys from Assad’s government, which has the backing of Moscow.
He said that after 60 days, the cessation of hostilities agreed to by both sides “hangs by a thread.”
“I really fear that the erosion of the cessation is unraveling the fragile consensus around a political solution, carefully built over the last year,” de Mistura said in his council briefing obtained by The Associated Press. “Now I see parties reverting to the language of a military solution or military option. We must ensure that they do not see that as a solution or an option.”
The talks foundered last week after the main opposition group, called the High Negotiating Committee, suspended its formal participation in the indirect talks with Assad’s envoys to protest alleged government cease-fire violations, a drop in humanitarian aid deliveries and no progress in winning the release of detainees in Syria.