August 29, 2019 / 6:02 PM / 3 months ago

U.N. Security Councils mulls calling for Idlib truce, Russia likely to oppose

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council is considering a draft resolution that would call for a truce in northwestern Syria “to avoid a further deterioration of the already catastrophic humanitarian situation,” though diplomats said on Thursday that such a move is likely to face opposition from veto-power Russia.

Residents inspect the rubble of damaged buildings, looking for victims, after a deadly airstrike, said to be in Maarat al-Numan, Idlib province, Syria August 28, 2019. Syria Civil Defence in the Governorate of Idlib/Handout via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have been waging an offensive in the Idlib region, the last remaining rebel-held territory in Syria’s war. Much of the region is controlled by jihadists linked to the former Nusra Front, which was linked to al Qaeda.

Kuwait, Germany and Belgium circulated a draft resolution, seen by Reuters, to the 15-member U.N. Security Council late on Wednesday that would express “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in and around Idlib.” It was not immediately clear when they aimed to put it to a vote.

A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, France or Britain to pass.

“Three million people — two-thirds of them women and children — are counting on your support to make this violence stop,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Thursday.

The United Nations said that since the start of hostilities in northwest Syria in April, more than 550 civilians have been killed and some 400,000 people displaced. Almost half of the displaced people are living in open-air areas or under trees.

Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy did not comment directly on the proposed draft resolution, but questioned the timing.

“As soon as the Syrian forces achieve some kind of advantage on the territory and begin to force terrorists out, our colleagues begin to say that we should stop military activity,” he said. “There is a need to have an uncompromising fight against terrorists.”

COUNCIL FAILURE

Senior British diplomat Stephen Hickey, speaking at his last Security Council meeting, said that despite best efforts the council had failed the people of Syria. He noted Russia’s 12 vetoes of resolutions to shield the Assad government during the more than eight-year-long conflict.

“We must now come together urgently to stop the violence in Idlib and to protect Syrians from further suffering,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia and Turkey had agreed on steps to tackle militants in northwestern Syria and “normalise” the situation. Russian and Turkish forces in northern Syria are allies of opposing sides in the civil war.

The U.N. draft resolution also demands that all parties, particularly the Syrian government, must comply with international law, “including the respect and protection of civilians and civilian objects, as well the respect and protection of all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel.”

U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced earlier this month that the world body would investigate attacks on U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites in northwest Syria. Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.

The locations of the U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites like hospitals and health centres had been shared with the warring parties in a bid to protect them. However, the United Nations has questioned whether it made them a target.

“The rules are clear,” Lowcock said. “People’s homes, hospitals, schools, water systems and markets must be protected. There can be no reason, rationale, excuse or justification for the destruction of civilian areas on the scale seen in Idlib.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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