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United Nations debates response to renewed Syrian violence

The Security Council will vote Friday afternoon on a proposed 30-day ceasefire.

Friday 23 February, 2018
Russia’s United Nations ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, left, and China's UN ambassador Ma Zhaoxu talk on Friday before a UN Security Council meeting.
Russia’s United Nations ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, left, and China's UN ambassador Ma Zhaoxu talk on Friday before a UN Security Council meeting. Foto:AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

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The United Nations Security Council scheduled a vote Friday on a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The resolution would allow attacks directed at extremists from the Islamic State group and all al-Qaida affiliates including the Nusra Front to continue. The Syrian government and its Russian allies say they are pursuing Islamic extremists.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called a 30-day cease-fire unrealistic and said it couldn't be enforced.

But Sweden and Kuwait, which sponsored the resolution, have been pressing for immediate action as deaths mount in a Syrian bombing campaign in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta.

They rejected a key Russian-proposed amendment that would have ruled out an immediate cease-fire. The amendment would have demanded that all parties "stop hostilities as soon as possible" and work for a "humanitarian pause" for at least 30 days.

Whether Russia will veto or abstain in the upcoming vote remains to be seen.

The Security Council was originally scheduled to vote at 11 a.m. EST (1 p.m. ART) but the vote was delayed until mid-afternoon while last-minute negotiations continued.

"We are so close to adopt this resolution," Kuwait's UN Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaiba, the current council president, told reporters. "We are almost there."

He said the vote will take place at 2:30 p.m. EST, or 4:30 p.m. in Argentina.

The text the sponsors circulated Friday morning demands that a 30-day cease-fire take effect 72 hours after the resolution is adopted.

"It is about saving lives," Sweden's UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said. "UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go. It's time for the council to come together and shoulder its responsibility to urgently avert a situation that is beyond words in its desperation."

The final draft does include several other Russian proposals.

It stresses the need for "guarantees" from countries with influence on government and opposition forces to support and create conditions for a lasting cease-fire. The sponsors also added language expressing "outrage" at the shelling of Damascus, including on diplomatic premises, which is a proposal Russia wanted.

Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate suspension of "all war activities" in eastern Ghouta, where he said 400,000 people are living "in hell on earth."

The draft resolution demands that as soon as the cease-fire takes effect, all parties should allow humanitarian convoys and medical evacuations in areas requested by the United Nations. It states that 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities are in "acute need," including 2.9 million in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

Syrian government warplanes supported by Russia continued their relentless bombardment of the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of Damascus for a sixth day Friday, killing 32 people, opposition activists and a war monitor reported. The death toll from the past week climbed to more than 400.

The new wave of bombings came a day after the Syrian army dropped leaflets over rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, calling on residents to leave for their own safety and urging opposition fighters to hand themselves over. The leaflets were dropped by helicopters over the area known as eastern Ghouta, telling residents that they are surrounded on all sides by the Syrian army.

The number of casualties has overwhelmed rescuers and doctors at hospitals, many of which have also been bombed. World leaders a day earlier called for an urgent cease-fire in Syria to allow relief agencies to deliver aid and evacuate the critically sick and wounded from besieged areas to receive medical care.

-TIMES/AP

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