UN approves 30-day Syria ceasefire, US slammed Russia for delay

United Nations: America’s ambassador to the United Nations today slammed Russia for delaying a vote on a ceasefire in Syria for the besieged area of eastern Ghouta, saying “the Syrian people can’t wait”.

She tweeted that “Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria,”

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Saturday unanimously backed a 30-day ceasefire resolution in Syria to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

The vote comes in response to the seven-day airstrikes and bombings in the war-torn country that has claimed over 500 lives so far.

UN Secretary-General appealed on Wednesday for an immediate end to “war activities” there and had referred to the Syrians living in the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus as “Hell on Earth”, according to media reports.

Earlier, the UNSC was supposed to vote on the ceasefire in Syria on Thursday, which is seeing a bloody six-year-old civil war.

Negotiations stumbled over Russian demands that the rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces should comply with the resolution.

Russia, which is also a permanent member of the Security Council vetoed 11 times to protect the Syrian government.

The draft resolution, put forward by Kuwait and Sweden, earlier called for a nationwide resolution to go into effect within 72 hours after the resolution is passed. Medical evacuations and aid deliveries would start 48 hours after adopting the resolution. However, the plan did not materialise.

The Bashar-led Syrian government and its close ally Russia have repeatedly said that the motive of airstrikes is to target militants.

They have said that they seek to stop mortar attacks injuring dozens in Damascus, and have accused the militants in Eastern Ghouta of capturing and holding people as “human shields”.

Moscow, which intervened militarily in support of its Damascus ally in 2015, has denied any direct involvement in the Eastern Ghouta bombardment.

The Syrian military forces have not commented on the resolution so far.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday called on the Russian President Vladimir Putin to back the ceasefire resolution.

In November last year, Russia used its veto power to end a UN-led investigation of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Nearly 500 people, including 100 children, have died and hundreds more injured in the last seven days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

At least 35 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. A night of heavy bombardment sparked fires in residential districts, the SOHR said in a statement.

Eastern Ghouta, which houses around 400,000 residents, has remained under a crippling regime siege for the last five years.

In May last year, Russia, Iran and Turkey signed an agreement to set up de-escalation zones, in order to prevent airstrike-related incidents in some parts of Syria.

The de-escalation zones include- Idlib province, some parts of Latakia province, Hama and Aleppo provinces, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and al-Quneitra provinces in southern Syria.

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011. Protesters have been long demanding the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his autocratic rule.

Russia today said there was no agreement at the UN Security Council on a 30-day ceasefire for Syria and presented amendments to a draft resolution that would allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of civilians from besieged Eastern Ghouta.

The Security Council has been negotiating the draft resolution on the ceasefire for nearly two weeks as the Syrian government has pressed on with a fierce offensive in the rebel-held enclave.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Sweden and Kuwait, which drafted the measure, had requested a vote on the draft resolution even though they are “fully aware there is no agreement on it.”

The Security Council needs to reach a “feasible” agreement on a ceasefire and not take a decision that would be “populistic” and “severed from reality,” said Nebenzia.

More than 400 people have been killed in the five-day assault by the Syrian government on Eastern Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described as “hell on earth” for civilians.

The ambassador cited concerns over measures to enforce the ceasefire and the safe delivery of aid before announcing that he would circulate proposals to amend the draft resolution.
Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9, but negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia escalated their fierce offensive.

The United States, France, Britain have called on the council to move to a vote as quickly as possible.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog urged the council to back the ceasefire to “avert a situation that is beyond words in its desperation.”

The draft resolution would pave the way for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies earlier as saying that Moscow could back the measure if it did not apply to rebel groups who are shelling Damascus.
In a concession to Russia, the draft was amended last week to specify that the ceasefire does not apply to the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda, but Lavrov appeared to put forward new demands.
“The resolution that is on the table, we are ready to look at it, but we have offered very precise phrasing that would say that the ceasefire would under no circumstances extend to ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra and those groups cooperating with them and systemically attacking the residential neighborhoods of Damascus,” Lavrov said.