Syria market attack likely by Syrian government forces: U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Air strikes that killed around 40 people in a crowded market in rebel territory in Syria were likely carried out by Syrian government forces, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.

“It is our understanding that it was most likely regime forces, but information is still coming in,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.

“The majority of the violations have been by the regime and we have reason to believe at this point that that was the case with this particular bombing,” he added.

Despite the bombing of the market in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province, which a monitoring group said it believed was the deadliest single attack since a partial ceasefire began on Feb. 27, Kirby said the United States believed the so-called cessation of hostilities was still largely holding but fragile.

“We still believe the cessation is still in place, that it is still largely holding and it is important to keep it in place,” Kirby said, adding that violence had increased in recent days but was still below levels seen before the U.S.-Russian “cessation of hostilities” plan was agreed in February.

Still, the main Syrian opposition HNC described the market attack as a “dangerous escalation” which reinforced its decision day earlier to suspend U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva.

While acknowledging that the sides were still a long way from an agreement, Kirby played down concerns the talks were near collapse. He also said Washington believed that Russia, which supports the government of President Bashar al-Assad, remained committed to a political solution to the Syrian war.

“Nobody ever thought this week in Geneva would be the end-all and be-all of the political process or the talks themselves,” he said.

“It’s not like we’re looking at this through rose-colored glasses, it’s not like we don’t see what’s going on in Geneva for exactly what it is.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton, editing by G Crosse and Tom Brown