United Nations: The UN Security Council has unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire 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 adopted a resolution on the ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations, but the measure did not specify when the truce would go into force beyond saying it should be “without delay.”
After the council vote Saturday, Syrian warplanes backed by Russian air power launched new raids on a town in 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.
Quickly following up on the vote, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak by phone Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for the truce to take hold “in the coming days,” the Elysee palace said in a statement.
To this end France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will also go to Moscow on Tuesday.
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 ceasefire that was “feasible.”
“What is necessary is for the demands of the Security Council to be underpinned by concrete on-the-ground agreements,” he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has described Eastern Ghouta as “hell on Earth,” said the ceasefire must be “immediately” implemented. To win Russia’s approval, language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after adoption was scrapped, replaced by “without delay,” and the term “immediate” was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.
In another concession to Moscow, the ceasefire 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 ensure the ceasefire turns into reality on the ground, vowing to be “extremely vigilant… in the hours to come and the days to come.”