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UN Security Council Reiterates Call for Syria Cease-fire


U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, center, confers with members of the Security Council before a scheduled vote on a resolution demanding a 30-day humanitarian cease-fire across Syria, Feb. 24, 2018.

U.N. Security Council President Karel van Oosterom on Wednesday reiterated a call for all parties in Syria to implement a nationwide cease-fire and expressed concern about Syria's humanitarian crisis.

Van Oosterom's comments came after the council met to discuss the ignored 30-day halt in fighting it demanded in a resolution nearly two weeks ago.

"The cessation of hostilities was discussed. The Security Council reiterated its call for implementation of Resolution 2401," van Oosterom said after the meeting ended.

The cease-fire's failure prompted Britain and France to request the closed-door meeting.

"We've called this meeting with the U.K. because the Syrian regime, as we speak, keeps besieging and bombing its own citizens in eastern Ghouta in complete violation of Resolution 2401 that was unanimously adopted by the council," French U.N. representative Francois Delattre told reporters before the meeting.

Designed to allow aid

The council's resolution was meant to give humanitarian workers a chance to take food and medical supplies to areas where seven years of conflict has left millions of Syrians badly in need of help.

Sweden's representative to the U.N., Olof Skoog, demanded before the meeting "full and immediate implementation of the resolution" and "immediate progress on medical evacuations" from the area.

Council members are scheduled to discuss the implementation of the cease-fire again on Monday when they meet with Secretary-General António Guterres.

An attempt Monday by the United Nations, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and International Red Cross to deliver aid in the eastern Ghouta area had to be abandoned because of continued violence. The agencies also reported the Syrian government blocked rescue workers from loading most of the medical supplies they had planned to transport.

"The secretary-general commends the courage of all humanitarians working tirelessly to ensure that people in need throughout Syria receive lifesaving humanitarian aid," Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks in New York, Dec. 6, 2017.
FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks in New York, Dec. 6, 2017.

Guterres said there is a particular need to ensure that Thursday's planned deliveries to the Douma part of eastern Ghouta go through, "as previously agreed with the Syrian authorities."

In the resolution, the council expressed "outrage at the unacceptable violence" in several parts of the country as well as at the "insufficient implementation" of seven of its resolutions regarding Syria dating to 2014.

More heavy fighting

Heavy fighting continued Wednesday in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Syria's capital that government forces have held under siege since 2013. Syrian government forces have pounded the area with airstrikes, killing hundreds of people. The Syrian government's more than two-week assault on the area, one of the last remaining under opposition control near Damascus, has escalated into one of the most intense campaigns since the war began nearly eight years ago.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced Wednesday that the Syrian government's military campaign had effectively cut eastern Ghouta in two, saying a strip of land connecting the northern and southern portions of eastern Ghouta was now within firing range.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, meanwhile, accused Russia in a tweet Wednesday of not being committed to the cease-fire:

Russia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Syrian rebels, in addition to civilians, were free to use evacuation corridors to leave eastern Ghouta.

A ministry statement said the fighters could take their guns and their families, but did not specify where they would go.

James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VOA that Russia's offer was a continuation of a pattern it has followed since joining the conflict in 2015.

"After much delay and hesitation, it accepts the U.N. resolution for a cease-fire, then it doesn't adhere to the cease-fire, while the Syrians claim, 'We're just fighting terrorists.' Then it does these peace corridors to allow them to come out so that they don't have to go in and do the ground fighting, because the truth is the Syrian-Iranian forces do not have a lot of infantry who are reliable," Jeffrey said.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.