US: Failure of UN Syria cease-fire demand 'a day of shame'

2018-03-29 05:42
Syrian government forces oversee the evacuation by buses of rebel fighters and their families, at a checkpoint in eastern Ghouta, Syria. (SANA via AP)

Syrian government forces oversee the evacuation by buses of rebel fighters and their families, at a checkpoint in eastern Ghouta, Syria. (SANA via AP)

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United Nations – UN Security Council members vented frustrations and traded blame on Tuesday over their unheeded demand for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, with the US envoy calling it "a day of shame".

With a unanimous February 24 vote, the council called for a 30-day break in hostilities "without delay" to enable humanitarian aid and medical evacuations as Syria enters its eighth year of civil war. But bombings didn't stop, though key Syrian ally Russia arranged five-hour daily "humanitarian pauses" in the besieged Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta.

"History will not be kind when it judges the effectiveness of this council in relieving the suffering of the Syrian people", US. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, adding that it "should be a day of shame for every member".

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, whose country holds the council presidency, called it "a humiliation" for the UN's most powerful body to be unable to enforce an order for humanitarian aid access.

Since the resolution passed, the UN and other groups have delivered aid to about 137 000 people around Syria – an improvement since earlier this year but still "crumbs" compared to what is needed, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said.

And "5.6 million Syrians in acute need cannot live on crumbs", he added.

Last month, the Syrian government launched a big military operation with Russian air support seeking to retake eastern Ghouta, which pro-government forces have besieged since 2013. After weeks of heavy bombardment, two rebel groups and al-Qaida fighters withdrew from their strongholds, and Syrian troops are now trying to push rebels out of a last one, the town of Douma.

More than 1 600 civilians have been killed in the recent government offensive, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Over 120 000 people have left eastern Ghouta.

Critics say the evacuations amount to forced displacement, and the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have refused to facilitate them.

Mocking the cease-fire demand

Haley accused the Syrian government, Russia and Syrian ally Iran of making "a mockery" of the cease-fire demand and said Russia had used its veto-wielding seat to stop the Security Council from doing more.

British Ambassador Karen Pierce implored Russia to use its influence with Syria to further UN humanitarian efforts, calling the lack of aid access "diabolical" – "a strong word, but there are no others to describe what is happening", she said.

Syria refers to opposition fighters as terrorists and says they are the cause of civilian suffering.

"We have been witness to a state of hysteria over the past weeks in the council as the Syrian government sought to exercise its sovereign right and to combat terrorist groups ... and to restore security and stability," Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said.

Russia's envoy argued his country was the only council member taking concrete steps toward the resolution's goals. He pointed to the "humanitarian pauses", insisting the evacuations were voluntary, and said Russians had provided food, drinking water and medical aid to evacuees.

"The Russian Federation has proactively taken measures to normalise this situation," Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. "Some members of the Security Council prefer to squander time on letters and rhetoric with unfounded claims against our country."

The cease-fire resolution's sponsors, Kuwait and Sweden, said they were disappointed in the outcome but determined to keep trying to achieve its goals.

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