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U.S. truce with Russia.

The United States
said on Wednesday it had agreed with Russia to extend a cessation of
hostilities agreement to include Aleppo where intense day-long violence
between Syrian rebels and government forces killed dozens of people.

The
State Department said the truce went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Damascus
time on Wednesday, but acknowledged the fighting had not stopped.

U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he was not surprised that fighting
continued in some areas, adding both sides were working to communicate
with commanders in the field.

Kerry,
meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the State
Department, said it was vital that both sides abide by the agreement. He
called on Russia to use its influence over President Bashar al-Assad to
stop the violence.

There was no
immediate response from Moscow to the announcement of an agreement, but
the Syrian army said it would implement a “regime of calm” in Aleppo for
48 hours as of Thursday.

The surge
in bloodshed in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the civil war and
biggest strategic prize, wrecked the first major “cessation of
hostilities” agreement of the war, sponsored by Washington and Moscow,
which had held since February.

In
battles on Wednesday between rebels and government forces in western
Aleppo, opposition forces said they were forced to retreat by heavy
aerial bombing.

Russia’s U.N.
ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, addressing a U.N. Security Council meeting
on the situation in Aleppo, said an agreement would have been announced
on Tuesday but opposition attacks in Aleppo had prevented it from
happening.

“The deterioration in
certain areas of Syria, including Aleppo, is a serious source of
concern. The government forces are fighting off a large-scale offensive
by the jihadists (in Aleppo),” he told the council.

Kerry said the United States was coordinating
closely with Russia to finalize strengthened monitoring of the extension
of the cessation of hostilities to Aleppo.

He
said he expected a meeting of the International Syrian Support Group, a
grouping of foreign ministers of European and Middle Eastern government
chaired by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to meet
within the next two weeks.

In Berlin, the German and French foreign ministers said achieving a ceasefire in Aleppo was critical to renewing peace talks.

“I believe
everyone knows and can conclude that there could be no return to the
political talks in Geneva if a ceasefire in and around Aleppo is not
observed,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told
reporters.

In Geneva, a senior
U.N. humanitarian official said the Syrian government was refusing U.N.
demands to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by
the fighting, including many in devastated Aleppo.
The
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens had been killed on both
sides in what it described as the most intense battle in the Aleppo
region in a year. Government forces were reinforced by allies from
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, it said.

A
rebel fighter said about 40 government soldiers had been killed, while
rebel losses stood at 10 dead. A military source denied there had been
heavy casualties in army ranks, but said dozens of civilians and many
rebels had been killed.

Rebel sources said
insurgents at one point captured a strategic location known as Family
House, but later lost it after the government side sent in
reinforcements.

A pro-government military strategist said the offensive failed to breach key army defense and supply lines in Aleppo.

During
the Security Council meeting, U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman said
a consolidated truce and greater humanitarian aid access were needed to
ensure the next round of Syria peace talks – set for this month – were
credible. Without progress, he said there was a “real risk of a failed
political process.”

“The current
levels of violence in Aleppo, in particular, negatively impact the
ability of the Syrian parties to engage in negotiations,” Feltman said.

U.N.
aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the 15-member council that life for the
people in Aleppo was horrendous and they were “living under daily threat
and terror.”

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