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UN Chief Appeals for Truce for Syria's Besieged E. Ghouta


A man carries an injured boy in the rebel-held besieged town of Hamouriyeh, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, Feb. 21, 2018.

U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said Thursday he hopes the Security Council will approve a proposed cease-fire, saying there is no alternative to halting the fighting and allowing humanitarian access.

Secretary-General António Guterres is appealing to the council to approve an urgent 30-day halt in fighting across Syria and to help the 400,000 besieged residents of eastern Ghouta, who he said, "live in hell on earth."

“I believe eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” Guterres said of the northern rebel-held enclave that has been under siege by pro-government forces since 2013. “My appeal to all those involved, is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in eastern Ghouta, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need.”

Last year, the enclave was designated as one of four de-escalation zones in a deal with President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters Russia and Iran, along with Turkey.

But fighting has escalated recently as the Syrian military and its allied forces appear to be launching an all-out operation to retake the area, which is one of the last areas near Damascus still under control of the armed opposition.

The U.N. human rights office said Wednesday at least 346 people have died in eastern Ghouta since Feb. 4.

In a statement late Wednesday, the United States called for Russia and its partners to meet their obligations for the de-escalation zones, particularly in eastern Ghouta, while also expressing support for a halt in violence to facilitate humanitarian deliveries.

Guterres urged the parties in the Syrian conflict to allow for the evacuation of the 700 people urgently awaiting medical attention.

“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way,” he told council members.

WATCH: UN Chief Appeals for Truce for Syria's Besieged E. Ghouta

UN Chief Appeals for Truce for Syria's Besieged E. Ghouta
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The 15-country Security Council is discussing a draft resolution that would implement U.N. demands for the pause. Council members Sweden and Kuwait have drafted the text, which could come to a vote as soon as Thursday, but it is not clear if all council members will support it.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia has urged the Security Council to call an open meeting for Thursday to discuss Syria.

“We are asking for a cessation of hostilities for 30-days throughout Syria,” Sweden’s U.N. envoy Olof Skoog told reporters. “Forty-eight hours after that access for weekly U.N. humanitarian aid convoys to areas in need, particularly urgent besieged areas. Forty-eight hours after that, emergency medical evacuation from areas the U.N. currently cannot access.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said every council member should support the cease-fire measure, while criticizing pro-government attacks on eastern Ghouta that she said "grow worse by the day."

"It's time to take immediate action in hopes of saving the lives of the men, women, and children who are under attack by the barbaric Assad regime," Haley said in a statement. "It is simply preposterous to claim that these attacks on civilians have anything to do with fighting terrorism."

Medical facilities targeted

Skoog said the draft text also calls for the lifting of sieges in four specific locations, including eastern Ghouta, as well as the protection of hospitals and other medical facilities.

This photo released Feb. 21, 2018, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows a member of the Syrian Civil Defense group rescuing a young girl from a building damaged by airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria.
This photo released Feb. 21, 2018, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows a member of the Syrian Civil Defense group rescuing a young girl from a building damaged by airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria.

Health facilities in the enclave have been particularly targeted in the offensive. U.S.-based medical relief organization the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said in a statement Wednesday that 13 medical facilities have been targeted in the last two days. Four were destroyed and two had to temporarily close. Scores of civilians have also been killed or injured in the attacks.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for restraint and access to the wounded.

“Our teams need to be allowed to enter Eastern Ghouta to aid the wounded,” Marianne Gasser, ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria said in a statement. “Wounded victims are dying only because they cannot be treated in time,” she added.

'We can't continue to look away'

The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent last accessed Eastern Ghouta in December to evacuate 29 wounded and their last delivery of humanitarian aid to the enclave was in November.

“It is time for us to realize that we can’t continue to look away,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told council members.

Former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon participated in Wednesday’s council meeting, a thematic discussion of the practices and principles of the U.N. Charter. Before the session he said the situation in Syria is “totally unacceptable.”

“The Security Council has not been effective in addressing the Syrian situation,” Ban said. “I’m going to really urge the Security Council to be united in addressing this.”

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