GWEN IFILL: The Syrian army announced late today the beginning of a major new offensive against the rebel-held eastern sectors of Aleppo. This came after a defiant Bashar al-Assad blamed the United States for the failure of a cease-fire agreement struck two weeks ago.
Hari Sreenivasan reports.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A rain of fire lit up Aleppo, Syria, overnight. It was one of scores of airstrikes, the most in months, and it proved a thundering, brutal answer to Secretary of State John Kerry’s plea for the Syrian military and its Russian allies to ground their jets.
Airstrikes resumed Monday, hours after a U.S.- and Russian-brokered cease-fire expired. In an interview broadcast today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Associated Press the blame lies squarely with Washington and its allies.
PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria (through translator): We announced that we are ready to be committed to any halt of operations, or if you want to call it, cease-fire, but it’s not about Syria or Russia. It’s about the United States and the terrorist groups that have been affiliated to ISIS and al-Nusra and al-Qaida, and to the United States and to Turkey and to Saudi Arabia.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House today rejected that charge, but Assad went further, insisting the U.S. deliberately targeted Syrian forces in a weekend airstrike. The U.S. military says that was a mistake.
At the same time, Assad denied any Syrian or Russian involvement in the attack on a humanitarian aid convoy outside Aleppo on Monday. In Washington, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Marine General Joseph Dunford went before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and rejected Assad’s denial.
The general also acknowledged a rift with the State Department over a cease-fire provision calling for military coordination with the Russians in Syria.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Chairman, I do not believe it would be a good idea to share intelligence with Russians.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Committee chair Republican John McCain pressed Dunford on whether the Obama administration’s Syria policy, which prioritizes fighting the Islamic State and other militant groups and not Assad, is working.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): I’m asking, is our military strategy succeeding in Syria?
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD: Our military strategy is focused on the counter-ISIL campaign. In my judgment, we are succeeding in that campaign.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: So, as far as you’re concerned, we ignore the 400,000 dead and the six million refugees that’s caused by Bashar Assad?
HARI SREENIVASAN: As that hearing was under way in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry was in New York, meeting with the Russian foreign minister and the International Syria Support Group in a bid to revive the cease-fire. Prospects appeared doubtful, and Moscow announced it’s sending its only aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean Sea to begin new air operations in Syria.
And outside Damascus, the United Nations resumed deliveries of food and medicine, sending a convoy into a suburb of the Syrian capital.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan.
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