Hectic negotiations on to avoid Russian veto of UNSC Syrian ceasefire resolution

By Arul Louis

United Nations, Feb 23 (IANS) Members of the UN Security Council were engaged in hectic negotiations on Friday morning to come up with a veto-proof resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in war-torn Syria and to allow humanitarian aid to reach besieged areas, according to diplomats.

The vote on the resolution, scheduled for Friday morning was postponed twice and is expected to take place in the afternoon, Anatolio Ndong Mba, the permanent representative of Equatorial Guineau, an elected member of the Council, told reporters.

He said that because it was a humanitarian issue, they wanted to come up with an effective resolution.

The resolution proposed by Kuwait and Sweden did not come up as originally planned for a vote at a Council session on Thursday on the situation in Syria because of opposition from veto-wielding Russia.

Earlier on Thursday, the Council heard the situation in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus described as “hell on earth” by Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Thousands of civilians have been trapped in the rebel-held area that has been under constant bombardment and they need humanitarian relief and medical evacuations, he said by a video link from Geneva.

Russia’s Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the descriptions of the dire situation in East Ghouta as one-sided and said that several thousands of terrorists from organisations like the Al-Nusra Front were holding civilians as hostages.

He later told reporters that Russia had proposed amendments to the resolution.

The draft of the resolution calling for the 30-day ceasefire would have allowed military action against the Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front.

It was not clear as of Thursday night if the amendments had been accepted or a compromise reached to avoid a veto by Moscow, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, whch had vetoed about 10 recent resolutions on Syria.

Kelley Eckels-Currie, a senior diplomat at the US Mission, accused Assad of wanting to bomb or starve the people into submission with Russian support and Moscow was blocking a solution. She called for an immediate vote on the ceasefire resolution regardless of whether Russia would veto it.

Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, who presided over the session, said that more than 1,200 civilians had been killed in East Ghouta since the beginning of the month while the international community remained silent.

He said the resolution was a straight-forward text demanding a cessation of hostilities across Syria for 30 days to allow the UN and its partners to deliver aid and provide critical medical evacuation to the sick and wounded and asked all members to “rise above our political differences” and vote for it.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

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