Stakeholders Meet in Vienna to Discuss Syria Crisis

There were indications of a possible breakthrough on the Syrian crisis as negotiators from 19 states, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, gathered in Vienna. “Four and a half years of war in Syria we all believe has been far too long,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters. "The challenge is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. And that’s not going to happen overnight, but I am convinced that the steps that we worked on today, if followed up on, if worked on in good faith, can begin to move us in the right direction.

"And it’s our job to accelerate the momentum, so that we’re not back here next year or even the year after facing a Middle East with even more refugees, with even greater numbers of dead and displaced, and with even more suffering and more eroding hope. The time has come to stop the bleeding and start the building, and that is exactly what we have set out to do."

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The secretary said, “The consequences of that war for so many people, innocent people, is beyond description…And so we came here…with the conviction that the fighting and the killing absolutely has to end.” He said it will take pressure “from many different directions to reverse the escalation of conflict and to lay a credible groundwork for peace.”

He added that all the negotiators believe that Daesh and other terrorist organizations can never be allowed to unite or govern Syria. "The United States position regarding Syria, I emphasize, has not changed," he said. "There is no way that President Assad can unite and govern Syria. And we believe that Syrians deserve a different choice, and our goal is to work with Syrians from many factions to develop that choice.” 

Secretary Kerry acknowledged that the U.S. position was diametrically opposed to that of the Russian Federation. “But,” he said, “we can’t allow that difference to get in the way of the possibility of diplomacy to end the killing and to find the solution.”

As if to remind all parties of the difficult task ahead, as the ministers began what could become dialogue to an eventual ceasefire, a missile barrage slammed into a suburb of Damascus, killing at least 40 people and wounding many others in the latest government attack on the rebel-held area.

The Syrian National Council, the main Western-backed opposition group in exile, blamed Russian airstrikes for the "massacre" in Douma, which it said killed 55 civilians. It was the second deadly attack in the past 24 hours after Russian airstrikes bombed the main hospital in Douma a day earlier. There were conflicting reports about the attack in Douma. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committess group said government forces fired more than 11 missiles at a market, killing at least 40.

Both organizations and a third Douma-based activist network were reporting dozens more wounded in the mid-morning attack. The area is a frequent target of deadly government airstrikes and barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. Amateur videos posted on the Internet showed images of young men sprawled on the ground of what appears to be a market.

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