US accuses Moscow of 'dangerously' worsening Syria war
The United States said Wednesday that Russia's air war in Syria had "dangerously exacerbated" the conflict and accused Moscow of seeking to bolster President Bashar al-Assad's regime instead of targeting jihadists.
Washington's latest broadside against Russia's intervention in Syria came as regime troops -- emboldened in recent weeks by Moscow's support -- recaptured a key road into the country's second city Aleppo from the Islamic State group.
Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson said regime offensives backed by Russian air strikes had displaced at least 120,000 people in the war-wracked country.
"Russia's military intervention has dangerously exacerbated an already complex environment," she said.
Patterson said Russian strikes had targeted moderate opponents to Assad, killing civilians in attacks on civil defense crews, hospitals, centers for displaced persons and ambulances.
"So far, then, this has not been a Russian fight against terrorism so much as an effort to preserve the Assad regime," she said.
Regime forces launched major offensives in several parts of Syria after Russia began its intervention on September 30, with more than 1,300 air strikes carried out so far.
On Wednesday, Syria's army recaptured the sole route into the government-held side of Aleppo city from IS fighters, effectively breaking a nearly two-week siege.
- Major offensives -
The army gained full control of the route from the regime-controlled west of Aleppo to Khanasser, Ithriya and Al-Salmiyeh "after eliminating a number of Daesh (IS) terrorists," state television said.
Advancing IS forces had managed to cut off the route at the end of October.
State TV said the road was now being demined and would be reopened to traffic on Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the frontline with IS fighters had been pushed back about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the route.
Aleppo was once Syria's economic hub, but has been ravaged by years of fierce fighting.
The city has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after fighting began there in mid-2012.
Regime forces have launched ground offensives in Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia provinces since the air campaign began, though they have so far registered modest advances.
They have also continued to pound the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area outside the capital Damascus.
The Observatory said Wednesday at least 12 people, including a woman and a child, were killed in government shelling on Douma in the rebel region.
The town is the frequent target of regime fire, with at least 70 people killed there in government attacks last Friday.
- UN urges talks -
Elsewhere, the Observatory said the civilian death toll had risen to 23 in apparent Russian strikes on the IS-held town of Al-Qaryatain on Monday.
Diplomatic efforts have stepped up in recent weeks to resolve Syria's conflict, which has left more than 250,000 dead and forced millions from their homes since March 2011.
In Moscow for talks, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Wednesday that the Syrian government and opposition should start talking to each other.
Russia hosted de Mistura after 19 key international players met for talks in Vienna on Friday, including the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in the broadest push yet to end the conflict.
The participants -- who did not include any representatives of the Syrian government or its opponents -- agreed to ask the United Nations to broker a peace deal between the regime and opposition to clear the way for a new constitution and UN-supervised elections.
Another round of international talks will be held in two weeks.
Speaking after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, de Mistura said the United Nations was ready to bring together representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition for talks in Geneva.
"We are ready, the UN is ready, to start immediately with this process in Geneva," de Mistura said.
"When? As soon as possible," he said.
© 2015 AFP