After days of tense behind-the-scenes negotiations, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution proposing a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria, but Russia and the US did not present a united front.
“It would be naïve to think that internal Syrian questions can be solved by a resolution,” said Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia following the vote, adding that Moscow had “supported the intentions” behind the document, but that no ceasefire was possible “without agreement from warring parties.”
Nebenzia criticized the “occupying ambitions” of the US-backed coalition, and said that foreign-backed militias bore responsibility for the humanitarian crisis that the resolution, adopted by 15 votes to none, was written to address.
He also reiterated earlier accusations that the West was conducting a “propaganda campaign” against the government forces in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, where fighting has intensified over the past week.
Nebenzia called for the world to pay equal attention to humanitarian suffering in other flashpoints around the country, and pointedly mentioned that the ceasefire does not preclude forces inside Syria from targeting “Islamic State, Al Nusrah and other extremist organizations.” Both Moscow and Damascus earlier said that Eastern Ghouta, which is besieged by government forces, and is under bombardment, is a stronghold for several terrorist groups.
In an equally adversarial speech, US envoy to the UN Nikky Haley slammed Russia for “obstructing the voting” on the resolution, which was submitted on Tuesday, and demanded its immediate implementation.
Ambassador Haley at #UNSC on #Syria: This resolution marks a moment of Council unity that we must seize and maintain beyond the 30-day timeframe. We hope this resolution will be a turning point where Russia will join us in pushing for the political settlement to this conflict. pic.twitter.com/Gkn2NZc48n
— Department of State (@StateDept) 24 February 2018
“The Syrian people should not have to die waiting for Russia to organize instructions from Moscow or discuss it with the Syrians,” said Haley. The US envoy added that Washington was “deeply skeptical that the Assad regime will comply” and pointed out that “credibility of the UN Security Council is at stake.”
While undisguised tension was palpable around the table, and no side outlined a ceasefire plan, Sweden, which put forward the resolution, said that “medical evacuations and UN humanitarian convoys are ready to go.”
According to the UN, almost 400,000 people remain in Eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by two Salafist factions, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, and Faylaq al-Rahman, another Islamist group that is identified with the Free Syrian Army.
The district, which consists of urban and rural settlements, was designated as a de-escalation zone by the Russia, Turkey and Iran-backed Astana talks last year, which stipulated that civilians must be able to freely leave its territory, and humanitarian aid should be allowed inside. But the militant groups have refused to down arms, and the standoff has once again spiraled into open confrontation.