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UN backs Syria cease-fire as death toll tops 500

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations (UN) Security Council on Saturday unanimousl­y demanded a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, as new air strikes on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta took the civilian death toll from seven days of bombing to more than 500.

With support from Russia, the Security Council approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire “without delay” to allow for humanitari­an aid deliveries and medical evacuation­s.

After the council vote, Syrian warplanes backed by Russian air power launched new raids on Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said.

At least 127 children are among the 519 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the rebel enclave, just outside Damascus, the British-based monitor said.

At least 41 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. Russia has denied taking part in the assault.

The UN vote was initially expected to be held Thursday, but was repeatedly delayed as diplomats were locked in tough negotiatio­ns to avoid a veto from Russia, which is militarily supporting President Bashar Al-Assad.

“Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” US ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote, accusing Moscow of stalling.

“As they dragged out the negotiatio­ns, the bombs from Assad’s fighter jets continued to fall. In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected accusation­s of foot- dragging, saying that negotiatio­ns were needed to arrive at a demand for a cease-fire that was “feasible.”

To win Russia’s approval, language specifying that the cease-fire would start 72 hours after the adoption was scrapped, replaced by “without delay,” and the term “immediate” was also dropped in reference to the aid deliveries and evacuation­s.

In another concession to Moscow, the resolution said the cease-fire will not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or Al- Qaeda, along with “individual­s, groups, undertakin­gs and entities” associated with the terror groups.

That would allow the Syrian government offensive to continue against Al- Qaeda-linked jihadists in Idlib, the last province in Syria outside the control of Damascus.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said it was now important to work to ensure that the ceasefire turns into reality on the ground, vowing to be “extremely vigilant... in the hours to come and the days to come.”

“Nothing would be worse than seeing this resolution remain a dead letter,” he said.

UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres, who has described Eastern Ghouta as “hell on earth,” is to report to the council in 15 days on the cease-fire.

Russia has vetoed 11 draft resolution­s throughout the Syrian conflict to block action that targeted its ally. In November, it used its veto to end a UN-led investigat­ion of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. —

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