THE BLOG
09/22/2016 03:23 am ET Updated Sep 22, 2017

Can The Crumbling Syria Truce Be Resurrected?

TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images

UNITED NATIONS - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, feuding with Russia, called for an immediate grounding of aircraft in key areas of Syria. France said a new group was needed to monitor any truce and Spain advocated an international court to try crimes by terrorists.

At a high-level UN Security Council meeting among presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers, most delegations agreed there had to be political talks, some kind of cease-fire, safe passage for humanitarian convoys and an end to the bombing of civilians, hospitals and schools.

More than 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the five-year old civil war. Millions are homeless and at least a million more have left the country reluctantly in the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Kerry's proposal, equivalent to a no-fly zone, appeared to fall on the deaf ears of the Syrian ambassador as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Russian minister and Kerry had negotiated a temporary cease-fire and deliveries of humanitarian aid and then political negotiations.

Bombing hospitals
Dropping diplomatic niceties, Kerry said:

How can people go sit at a table with a regime that bombs hospitals and drops chlorine gas again and again and again and again and again and again, and acts with impunity? Are you supposed to sit there and have happy talk in Geneva under those circumstances when you've signed up to a ceasefire and you don't adhere to it? What kind of credibility do you have with any of your people?

Short of U.S. military action, which now appears nil, there is little leverage to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to cooperate. In the divided crucial city of Aleppo and other parts of northern Syria, Assad, backed by Russia, seems bent on controlling as much territory as possible should peace talks ever succeed.

The most recent September 9 cease-fire appeared be holding. But violence exploded on Monday when a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid for 78,000 people was hit from the air, killing at least 20 people, including the director of the Syria Red Crescent Society.

The strike was launched in Urum al-Kubra, northwest Aleppo. A Red Crescent warehouse was also hit and a health clinic operated by the Red Crescent was damaged, the organization said. Aid convoys are often denied by Damascus and at times areas are bombed shortly after goods are delivered.

Who flies in northwest Syria?

Only Syrian and Russian planes fly in that area whereas other aircraft are bombing ISIS controlled regions. One disastrous exception was last week when US warplanes struck Syrian government troops, by accident, in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour. Russia, Venezuela and China mentioned it.

Russia's Lavrov said all groups should lay down their arms and that opposition fighters were operating in the area where the convoy was hit. He also said the Syrian conflict was a consequence of foreign military action in Iraq and Syria and called for the strike on the convoy to be investigated.

But Kerry mocked Russian spokesmen and officials in Moscow by reading a series of contradictory accounts about who did what.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy trying to organize peace talks, told reporters that there was a chance for a cessation of hostilities, a prerequisite for serious negotiations, and "you will know it in two days time."

Battle lines are muddled in nearly all areas of the country. Iran is sending security forces to back Assad. Turkey is fighting Kurds, which have been successful in combating ISIS. Saudi Arabia and Qatar back Islamist rebel groups and the moderate opposition has, at times, joined forces with the well-equiped Al-Nusra front, influenced by Al Qaeda.

Sinking bar of depravity
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the meeting that focused on restoring the recent cease-fire. "The Syrian tragedy shames us all. The collective failure of the international community should haunt every member of this Council," he said.

On the aid convoys, he told the General Assembly on Tuesday:

"Many groups have killed many innocents but none more so than the Government of Syria, which continues to barrel-bomb neighborhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees..."Just when we think we cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower."

France's foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for a grounding of all of Assad's troops and have them confined to barracks. He proposed a neutral mechanism to study violations of any truce to "resist the temptation to point a finger at one another."

Then Spain's foreign minister, Jose Manuel Farcia-Margallo, said his country, New Zealand, Egypt and Malaysia supported an international court devoted to terrorism to make bestial actors accountable.

Wednesday's meeting was called by New Zealand which holds the rotating Security Council presidency. Its president, John Key, presided...

Issuing a warning, Key said:

What I really want everybody to think about today, is that if in a year's time, we are here again in UN General Assembly, and there are still bombings, and there are still killings, and there is still slaughter, and there are still massacres going on in Syria, then I'm afraid the responsibility for that will lie overwhelmingly with the people broadly represented in this place, and above all, with the Assad regime and its sponsors.