WASHINGTON The U.S. State Department for the first time on Friday accused Syria of violating a truce with rebels and urged Russia to use its influence to stop the attacks, warning they could "tear asunder" the fragile peace process aimed at ending the war.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States "strongly condemned" the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for air strikes reported to have struck civilian protesters in the cities of Aleppo and Deraa, including targeting a mosque as the congregation was leaving.
Kirby said at a briefing that the United States also "strongly condemned the Assad regime's practice of removing badly needed medical supplies from the emergency humanitarian aid deliveries."
He said the Syrian government's actions were a breach of the cessation of hostilities deal, which took effect on Feb. 27.
Syria's main opposition group said it would attend peace talks on Monday in Geneva but accused the Assad government of preparing to step up warfare to strengthen its negotiating position. Russia said it expected its ally Syria to attend, although Damascus has yet to publicly confirm it will do so.
The U.N.-brokered talks coincide with the fifth anniversary of Syria's civil war in which 250,000 people have been killed and led to a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.
"We understand the fragility of it," Kirby told reporters. "We don't want to see violations of the cessation tear asunder these talks that are just about ready to start."
The truce deal has reduced violence although not halted the fighting, with further hostilities reported in western Syria on Friday, and as battles against Islamic State raged further east.
Kirby said in a separate statement that the cessation of hostilities generally had produced a "dramatic reduction" in violence in Syria and was largely holding after two weeks.
He said none of the armed factions had indicated they wanted the truce to end, and so the United States, the United Nations and other members of the International Syria Support Group considered it to still be in effect. Some groups had understood that the cessation agreement might end after two weeks.
(Reporting by Eric Beech, Arshad Mohammed and David Alexander; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Grant McCool)
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