US blames Russia as Syria talks suspended

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The Obama administration is blaming Russian airstrikes for halting United Nations peace talks aimed at ending the five-year Syrian civil war.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that Moscow’s continued bombing of rebels and attacks on supply routes in Syria was partly responsible for the breakdown in negotiations.

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“They are hitting almost exclusively opposition targets, and we are continuing to see reports of civilian casualties as a result of these strikes,”  Kirby said.

He added that the Russian strikes are “not anywhere near” focused on hitting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Kirby’s comments came after U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura announced a three-week pause in the talks, which only started last Friday.

With Russian support, the fledgling Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad has closed in on recapturing the entire city of Aleppo. The troubled Syrian city was the nation’s largest before war broke out in 2011.

"I have indicated from the first day that I won't talk for the sake of talking," Mistura told reporters in Geneva. “"I have concluded, frankly, that after the first week of preparatory talks there is more work to be done — not only by us but by the stakeholders.” 

The Wednesday announcement is a blow to international efforts to end the Syrian conflict that has already led to more than 250,000 dead.

The talks struggled to get off the ground last week, and were delayed by disagreements over the makeup of groups that should be represented.

The U.S. has consistently criticized Russia’s efforts in Syria since it entered the fray last year. The White House has accused Moscow of targeting opposition groups in order to prop up Assad, its regional ally instead of taking out anti-Western groups like ISIS.

Reports out of Syria on Wednesday indicated that Russia airplanes launched hundreds of air strikes against opposition forces on the edge of Aleppo. Syria’s state news agency, SANA, reported that the army had “completely” cut off supply routes from some of the rebel groups to the Turkish border.

"Russian strikes will not cease until we really defeat terrorist organizations like Jabhat al-Nusra,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a press conference in Oman, referring to an al Qaeda-linked organization in Syria. “And I don't see why these air strikes should be stopped.”