WASHINGTON Russian air strikes around the Syrian city of Aleppo have almost exclusively targeted opponents of the Syrian president rather than Islamic State militants, and were partly responsible for Wednesday's pause in peace talks, the State Department said.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told a briefing the strikes around Aleppo had led to reports of more civilian casualties, displacement of Syrian citizens and the possible obstruction of humanitarian assistance routes.
"It is difficult in the extreme to see how strikes against civilian targets contribute in any way to the peace process now being explored," Kirby told reporters. Kirby said the U.N. special envoy had paused the Geneva peace talks in part because of the disruption of humanitarian aide and civilian deaths.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the three-week pause less than a week after formally opening them on Friday but both sides denied they had ever begun.
He made the decision after the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advanced against rebel forces north of Aleppo, choking opposition supply lines from Turkey to the city.
Kirby said the Russian air strikes in and around Aleppo had been aimed almost exclusively at opponents to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not Islamic State militants.
He reiterated the longstanding U.S. appeal for Russian forces to "focus their military energy" in Syria on Islamic State militants and "not on the opposition or on innocent civilians."
Kirby said he was not blaming the suspension of talks exclusively on Russia, but he indicated it was a factor.
"I said in part because of the obstruction of humanitarian aid and in part because of the continued violence that's being wrought by the regime, supported by Russian military activity. I did not say it was in total," he said.
Kirby also insisted the peace talks had gotten under way, despite the quick pause.
"There was a beginning," he said. "Now, how deep did it go? How much dialogue there was? I don't know. But they were there, and they got a start."
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech and Grant McCool)
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