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Aleppo evacuates while John Kerry calls for ceasefire, Obama complains about media focus on Syria

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Secretary of State John Kerry (John Moore/Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry said at a State Department briefing Thursday afternoon that he is calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria, specifically as they relate to the airstrikes and shelling of Aleppo.

He also indicated that Russia has pledged to assist in the monitoring of evacuations of civilians from Aleppo, while the United Nations and the Turkish government prepare to receive evacuees.

"The United States of America is going to continue to try to push the parties toward resolution," Kerry said during the press conference, later calling the hostilities and the civilian deaths in Aleppo "unconscionable." He further called on the international community to "step up and do their part" and exert pressure on the warring factions to "abide by the cessation of hostilities."

Aleppo has captured the attention of the world as the central hub of the anti-Assad forces battling to keep Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies  including Russia and Iran  from regaining control. Civilians have been trapped in the eastern part of the city and reports of starvation and other atrocities began to filter out through social media and via reports on the ground.

According to CNN, evacuations had begun Thursday as part of a Russian-backed ceasefire agreement as Aleppo fell to Assad. From CNN:

By Thursday evening about 1,000 civilians, including 300 children and 28 wounded, had been evacuated from Aleppo, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Twitter. Evacuations are expected to continue throughout the night and into Friday, according to Syrian state TV.

It is being reported that most of the civilians were headed toward other rebel-controlled areas such as Idlib, one of the last remaining rebel-controlled regions and likely the next target for Assad's attempt to recapture the entire country.

Kerry noted that the many peace talks the State Department has been involved in regarding the Syrian civil war have failed largely due to Assad's "constant unwillingness" to negotiate, favoring instead a program of slowly taking Syria back from rebel control through airstrikes and shelling. Kerry also cited the $6 billion in supplies the U.S. has sent to help civilians in the region.

All of this rings slightly hollow when remembering Obama's own unwillingness to act on his self-imposed red line with Assad in Syria. In 2011, after a rebellion broke out in the country, Obama called for Assad to step down, but then backed off that demand by providing only limited supplies and refusing air or troop support to help the rebels overthrow Assad. The Wall Street Journal asserts that because the U.S. pulled back, that allowed room for Russia to move in:

Over the past three years, Iran and Russia have drastically increased their presence in Syria. The Kremlin began launching airstrikes to support Mr. Assad in late 2015. And Tehran has mobilized thousands of Shiite militia members to back the Syrian military in Aleppo and other battles.

“We’ve deliberately checked out,” said Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.

As Washington has lowered its profile in the Middle East, Russia and Iran have shown their intent to expand their influence and roles. Many Arab allies are acknowledging Russia’s leadership role now in their region.

Now, as Aleppo falls to Assad and Kerry tries to clean up the public relations mess of the administration's Middle East policy,  Obama has been complaining that the media has been focusing too much on Syria. According to the Weekly Standard, President Obama said this at a Nov. 14 press conference:

If you were President 50 years ago, the tragedy in Syria might not even penetrate what the American people were thinking about on a day-to-day basis. Today, they're seeing vivid images of a child in the aftermath of a bombing. There was a time when if you had a financial crisis in Southeast Asia somewhere, it had no impact on our markets; today it does.
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