Kerry: Russia and Syria should face war crimes probe

Last Updated Oct 7, 2016 12:37 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for Russia and Syria to face a war crimes investigation for their attacks on Syrian civilians, further illustrating the downward spiral in relations between Washington and Moscow.

Kerry said Syrian forces hit a hospital overnight, killing 20 people and wounding 100, describing what would be the latest strike by Moscow or its ally in Damascus on a civilian target.

“Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, and medical facilities, and women and children,” Kerry told reporters alongside French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who arrived in Washington directly from meeting Russian officials in Moscow.

Kerry said such acts “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.”

“They are beyond the accidental now, way beyond,” Kerry said in some of his toughest criticism to date. He accused Russia and Syria of undertaking a targeted strategy to “terrorize civilians.”

Ayrault, for his part, spoke of a new French effort for a cease-fire in Syria. But it’s unclear what advantages his plan would have over the U.S.-Russian led process that collapsed last month.

A draft Security Council resolution on Syria has gone into final, called “blue,” form, meaning that it is set for a vote, which Council members say will take place Saturday, at an emergency meeting, CBS News’ Pamela Falk reports.

But, despite intense negotiation, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said to reporters outside the Council that bringing the resolution to a vote as it is written will “cause a Russian veto” and that it is not intended to make progress, Falk added. Russia’s objection: the resolution requires the Russian military to stop flights.

Ayrault will be at the emergency weekend meeting at the U.N., diplomats told CBS News; speaking alongside Kerry, Ayrault said that the meeting would be  “a moment of truth for all the members of the Security Council - do you, yes or no, want a ceasefire in Aleppo? And the question is in particular for our Russian partners, like I said to Sergey Lavrov yesterday.”

Kerry’s Sept. 9 agreement with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would have created a new counterterrorism alliance in Syria, had fighting stopped for a week and aid deliveries been permitted to reach desperate civilians in rebel-held parts of Aleppo and other besieged areas.

Neither condition was ever met.

The truce then broke completely when Syria and Russia renewed their military offensive in Aleppo. Kerry ended bilateral discussions with Russia on the military partnership earlier this week.

The war has killed as many as a half-million people since 2011, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State group to carve out territory for itself and emerge as a global terror threat.

As Kerry and Ayrault spoke at the State Department, Russia’s lower house of parliament ratified a new treaty with Syria that would allow Russia’s military to remain indefinitely in the Arab country. The vote was unanimous, a show of support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Since the collapse of a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire last month, ties between Moscow and Washington have grown even more strained.

Russia launched its air campaign in Syria a year ago, reversing the tide of war and helping Assad’s forces make significant territorial gains.