Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

Syrian truce knife-edge

Bombings, deaths continue as UN ceasefire vote is delayed

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THE UN Security Council on Friday delayed a vote on a demand for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, where pro-government warplanes have been pounding the last rebel bastion near Damascus in one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war.

A draft resolution aimed at ending the carnage in the eastern Ghouta district and elsewhere in Syria was to be put up for a vote yesterday, said Kuwait’s UN ambassador, Mansour Ayyad al-Otaibi.

The 24-hour delay followed a flurry of last-minute negotiatio­ns on the text drafted by Sweden and Kuwait after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, proposed new amendments on Friday.

“Unbelievab­le that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitari­an access in Syria,” US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, posted on Twitter.

Talks have centred on the paragraph demanding a cessation of hostilitie­s for 30 days to allow aid access and medical evacuation­s. A proposal for the truce to start 72 hours after the resolution’s adoption has been watered down to instead demand it start “without delay”, in a bid to win Russian support.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moscow did not want to specify when a truce should start. It was not immediatel­y clear how Russia would vote yesterday. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, the US, Britain and France to be adopted.

“We’re not going to give up… I hope we will adopt something forceful, meaningful, impactful,” said Olof Skoog, Sweden’s UN ambassador.

Previous ceasefires, however, have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand.

The towns and farms of eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricit­y that worsened last year. Earlier on Friday, the densely populated enclave was bombed for a sixth day in a row, witnesses said.

The civilian casualties and devastatio­n there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in 2016. At least 462 people have been killed, including at least 99 children, and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said on Friday.

Syrian state media reported that one person was killed and 58 injured in rebel shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital.

Clouding any potential ceasefire is the Syrian government’s tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their stronghold­s after long sieges and military offensives.

Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellions in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardmen­t in earlier years.

“We refuse categorica­lly any initiative that includes getting residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council.

Eastern Ghouta has 400 000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured.

Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.

Leading up to the Security Council vote, all eyes have been on Russia. Moscow has a history of blocking Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.

Germany and France were among the nations to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the resolution.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted guarantees that rebel fighters would not shoot at residentia­l areas in Damascus.

Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim was to stop rebel shelling of the capital and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of using residents as human shields.

The Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said government planes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours of Friday.

Medical charities say more than a dozen hospitals were hit. – Reuters

 ?? PICTURE: AP/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA) ?? This picture, released by Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Centre, shows the impact on besieged Ghouta. Government war planes, supported by Russia, continued their relentless bombardmen­t of the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of...
PICTURE: AP/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA) This picture, released by Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Centre, shows the impact on besieged Ghouta. Government war planes, supported by Russia, continued their relentless bombardmen­t of the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of...

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