UNITED NATIONS —
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is denouncing the Syrian government and Russia for the failure of a cease-fire in Syria that the U.N. Security Council demanded two weeks ago.
“They have made a mockery of this process and this institution,” Haley told a council meeting Monday on the issue. “For the sake of the Syrian people and the integrity of this council, we must respond and take action.”
On Feb. 24, the 15-nation Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a 30-day truce to allow humanitarian aid into besieged areas, including rebel-held eastern Ghouta, and to evacuate the critically sick and injured. With few exceptions, the cessation of hostilities has not been implemented, and in some areas, fighting has intensified.
Haley said the United States has drafted a new cease-fire resolution “that provides no room for evasion.” She did not offer any details of the proposed draft, but she criticized the Syrian and Russian governments for exploiting loopholes in the current cease-fire that allow for continuing military operations against legitimate terrorist groups.
“The Syrian and Russian regimes insist that they are targeting terrorists, but their bombs and artillery continue to fall on hospitals and schools — on innocent civilians,” Haley said.
The U.S. proposed text, seen by VOA, calls for a 30-day ceasefire “immediately” upon adoption of the resolution.
There have also been reports of possible chlorine attacks on civilians during the past two weeks. Haley reminded Security Council members of a U.S. airstrike last April on an air base in Syria in retaliation for the government's alleged use of sarin against the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
“We also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime — the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” Haley said. “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”
Russia: Criticism is Political
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia attributed criticism of his government to political agendas, not humanitarian ones. He dismissed an immediate cease-fire as never being realistic, and said Moscow is doing its part to create a sustained de-escalation of violence across Syria.
He also expressed concern that efforts are being made to frame the Syrian government for using chemical weapons in order to justify foreign military action.
“We understand very well the rationale behind the disinformation campaign,” Nebenzia told the council. “We, and the Syrian party, have our fears that what is being prepared is a provocation, in order to then blame the Syrian authorities that they are carrying out chemical attacks.”
He said according to Russian information, the Nusrah Front terrorist group was responsible for a chlorine attack in eastern Ghouta on March 5.
“All of this is being done in order to prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria,” Nebenzia said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Sunday that the United States is "getting reports" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are using chlorine gas in their offensive against rebels in eastern Ghouta.
After the meeting, Nebenzia said he had not yet seen the U.S. cease-fire draft text Haley announced.
Syria’s envoy Bashar al-Jaafari dismissed statements critical of his government as “irresponsible and provocative” and a “direct incitement” to terrorist groups to use the chemical weapons so they can fabricate evidence to accuse the Syrian army.
On Monday, one of the main Syrian rebel groups in eastern Ghouta said it had reached an agreement with Russia to evacuate wounded people from the district. It was not clear if the wounded involved were rebel fighters, civilians or both. The group said the evacuations would take place in stages, but did not detail the timing or where the people would be taken.
Guterres: We Can't Give Up
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres gave a lengthy briefing to council members, concluding that there has been no cessation of hostilities.
“Syria is bleeding inside and out,” Guterres said. He urged council members not to abandon efforts to implement a cease-fire. “We cannot give up for the sake of the Syrian people,” he said.
The Syrian conflict enters its eighth year on Thursday. More than a half million people are estimated to have died as a result, and 5.6 million Syrians have become refugees.