- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2016

A key Republican lawmaker on foreign policy says the U.S.-backed cease-fire in Syria is “effectively dead” and that the time has come for serious debate on whatever “plan B” the Obama administration has for responding to the nation’s 6-year-old civil war.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker made the assertions Thursday after speaking with Riyad Hijab, a senior representative of the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition, which announced earlier this week that it was putting a “pause” on peace talks with the Assad regime in Geneva.

Reuters reported Thursday that Asaad Zoubi, the chief negotiator for the opposition — known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) — had said all opposition representatives would leave the Geneva talks by Friday, with little prospect of a resumption unless the situation on the ground in Syria changes radically.

The news agency also cited an unnamed U.S. official as saying Russia, a key backer of the Assad regime, has been repositioning artillery to northern Syria — a move that may suggest the Syrian government and its allies are preparing another assault on the divided city of Aleppo.

Mr. Corker, meanwhile, said he understands “why the moderate opposition is withdrawing from the Geneva talks.”

“The Assad regime continues to target civilians, block humanitarian access, and refuse the release of detainees,” the Tennessee Republican said.

“Russia and Iran continue to flood weapons, heavy equipment and personnel into Syria as violence is picking up throughout the country,” Mr. Corker said in a statement. “Now that the cessation of hostilities is effectively dead, it looks like it’s time to consider what Secretary Kerry referred to as ‘Plan B’, and I look forward to him laying that out very soon.”

Obama administration officials have scrambled to shore up the faltering cease-fire since Monday, when opposition rebels made headlines by opening new battlefronts in Syria in response to a wave of truce violations during recent weeks by the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In a letter to its rebel fighters on the ground in Syria Monday, the HNC said a surge in cease-fire violations and advances by the Assad regime’s military meant the truce was “effectively over” and that the peace process that U.S. officials have been trying for months to get off the ground in Geneva via the United Nations had been indefinitely postponed.

Reports have since emerged of rebel assaults in Syria’s Latakia province, an Assad regime stronghold on the Mediterranean, and a rebel advance on the city of Hama — all while the Syrian military continued to pound rebel-held territory in several key areas of the country.

The U.S. and Russia had worked together to broker the cease-fire, which went into effect Feb. 27, a pause in fighting that had briefly allowed desperately needed food and medical aid to reach besieged civilian areas inside Syria.

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