The Latest: UN delays vote on 30-day Syria cease-fire
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):
The U.N. Security Council has delayed a vote on a resolution demanding a 30-day humanitarian cease-fire across Syria in hopes of trying to close a gap over when a halt to fighting should take place.
Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaiba is the current council president. He told reporters Friday evening that “we are so close,” but there are still differences over the timing of a cease-fire.
He said the council will meet at noon EST (1700 GMT) on Saturday.
The resolution sponsored by Kuwait and Sweden calls for a cease-fire to take effect 72 hours after its adoption, followed immediately by access for humanitarian convoys and medical evacuation teams.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has called a 30-day cease-fire unrealistic.
A Russian-proposed amendment rejected by the sponsors would have ruled out an immediate cease-fire, demanding instead that all parties “stop hostilities as soon as possible” and work for a “humanitarian pause” for at least 30 days.
Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters council members have been “very, very close” to agreement, “but we have not been able to close the gap completely.”
He says all agree “there needs to be a cease-fire and it has to be urgent, immediately. But he added, “There are still some discussions on exactly how to define that. So that’s what we’re working on.”
Syrian opposition activists say bombardment of rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus has killed 32 people.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Friday’s 32 deaths raise to 462 the number of people killed since Sunday when government forces began a new wave of bombardment with warplanes, helicopter gunships, surface-to-surface missiles and artillery.
The Ghouta Media Center, an activist collective, also put the number of Friday’s deaths at 32 people, saying those killed included 13 people in the Damascus suburb of Douma, five in Ein Tarma and five in Shiefouniyeh.
Opposition activists say the massive bombardment aims to pave the way for a ground offensive by government forces to capture one of the first areas that revolted against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
The German governments says the leaders of Germany and France have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek his support for a U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire and humanitarian aid in eastern suburbs of Damascus.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said she and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday condemned targeted attacks on civilians and on medical infrastructure. They also condemned “attacks on civilians and the Russian embassy in Damascus,” but said those don’t detract from the obligation to protect civilians in eastern Ghouta and elsewhere.
The French and German leaders called for an immediate end to fighting and the enforcement of a cease-fire to enable humanitarian access and medical evacuations. They urged Russia to live up to “its responsibility.”
The European Union is imploring all parties involved in the conflict in Syria to help secure a cease-fire in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, where more than 400 people have been killed by government forces since Sunday.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday that “unhindered humanitarian access and the protection of civilians is a moral duty and a matter of urgency. It is in the responsibility of all to prevent further loss of lives, to stop the violence.”
She urged the parties “to take all necessary measures to ensure an immediate ceasefire, the protection of the Syrian people by respecting international humanitarian law, and urgent humanitarian access.”
Mogherini also said “the Syrian regime must immediately stop targeting its own people and fulfill its primary responsibility to protect them.”
Turkey’s military has said it hit a convoy carrying weapons and ammunition in the countryside of a Kurdish-held enclave in northern Syria.
In a statement published Friday, the army said Turkish artillery hit the 30 to 40-vehicle convoy of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in southeastern Afrin. Aerial video accompanying the statement showed the alleged strike.
Turkey launched a military offensive on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin from the YPG, which it considers a terror group.
The YPG accused Turkey of bombing a convoy of civilians that was crossing into Afrin to protest Turkey’s offensive, leading to casualties.
But the Turkish military said multiple explosions were proof the convoy was carrying ammunition. “As always, utmost attention and care has been shown to not hurt civilians,” Friday’s statement added.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has called again for an urgent ceasefire to relieve the “appalling suffering” of civilians in eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus by stopping the bombing there and the “indiscriminate” mortar shelling of Syria’s capital Damascus.
Syrian government forces have been pounding eastern suburbs of Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, for days killing more than 400 since Sunday.
U.N. spokesperson Alessandra Vellucci said in a statement read at news briefing in Geneva Friday that “the ceasefire needs to be followed by immediate, unhindered humanitarian access to eastern Ghouta and evacuation of sick and injured.”
De Mistura’s statement called upon the three guarantor countries of the so-called “Astana process — Russia, Iran and Turkey” to urgently meet to reinstall de-escalation zones in Syria saying that there cannot be a repetition of what happened in Aleppo 14 months ago.
In the summer of 2016, government forces launched a wide offensive on rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo forcing rebels and their families to leave the area.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled a vote at 11 a.m. EST 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 draft resolution to be voted on rejects Russia’s proposed amendments which would delay any cease-fire.
Whether Russia vetoes or abstains on the resolution remains to be seen.
Russia’s amended U.N. resolution would rule out an immediate 30-day cease-fire in Syria to deliver aid and evacuate the critically ill proposed by Sweden and Kuwait and backed by most of the U.N. Security Council.
Several council diplomats who examined the Russian draft, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was unacceptable.
The final draft of the Swedish-Kuwait resolution orders the cease-fire to start 72 hours after the resolution’ adoption.
A main Syrian opposition group is calling on the international community to prevent Russia from voting on a new U.N. Security Council resolution saying Moscow is part of the conflict in the Arab country.
Russia has been a main backer for Syrian President Bashar Assad and has joined the battle on his side since 2015 tipping the balance of power in his favor. Opposition activists say Russian warplanes are taking part in bombarding rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, where more than 400 people have been killed since Sunday.
Salwa Aksoy, vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, told reporters in Turkey that according to the United Nations charter countries that are part of a conflict have no right to vote on draft resolutions.
Sweden and Kuwait were seeking a vote on a resolution ordering a 30-day cease-fire to allow relief agencies to deliver aid and evacuate the critically sick and wounded from besieged areas to receive medical care.
But Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia put forward last-minute amendments, saying the proposed resolution was “simply unrealistic.” A new vote was likely Friday.
Aksoy said in Turkey Friday that “what is happening in Ghouta is a war of annihilation and crimes against humanity.” She blamed Assad’s government as well as his backers Russia and Iran for the violence.
She said over the past three months more than 2,000 civilians have been killed, nearly 5,000 wounded and 32 medical centers and clinics have been destroyed.
Human Rights Watch is criticizing the way Turkey is conducting its offensive in northern Syria, saying it has failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
The New York-based group cites three attacks in the Afrin region in late January that it says killed a total of 26 civilians, including 17 children.
In a statement Friday, it called on Turkey to thoroughly investigate these strikes and make the findings public.
Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in the Kurdish-controlled region on Jan. 20, saying it aims to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey considers to be an offshoot of its own outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting within Turkey.
According to several estimates around 120 civilians have been killed so far in the offensive. Turkey denies hitting civilians.