The Latest: Sweden, Kuwait call for UN vote on Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian civil war (all times local):
Sweden and Kuwait are calling for a vote Thursday on a U.N. resolution ordering a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid to millions in acute need and the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded.
The Security Council resolution would exempt attacks directed at extremists from the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and the Nusra Front.
The proposed resolution expresses “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence” and attacks on civilians, particularly in Idlib governorate and the rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.
The U.N. human rights office said Wednesday that at least 346 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since the Syrian government and its allies escalated an offensive on Feb. 4.
Russia, a key Syrian ally, has called for a Security Council meeting Thursday on eastern Ghouta.
Whether Russia uses its veto or abstains in a vote on the resolution remains to be seen.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Wednesday that the council should be realistic, saying “Cessations cannot be established by putting a word in the resolution.”
France has added its voice to a call for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria’s rebel-held eastern Ghouta region and says that a “robust surveillance mechanism” should be put in place to monitor it.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke on Wednesday with the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and stressed that it is “indispensable” that the international community act. The 30-day cease-fire, proposed in a resolution by Sweden and Kuwait, to evacuate and allow entry of humanitarian aid into the neighborhood under bombardment by Syrian troops must be backed with a monitoring system to ensure it is respected. Russia’s U.N. ambassador has said the cease-fire isn’t realistic.
In a statement by the Foreign Ministry, Le Drian reiterated the demand of President Emmanuel Macron for an immediate end to hostilities.
The minister is to travel to Moscow on Feb. 27 to discuss Syria with his counterpart Serguei Lavrov.
Russia is calling for an open meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday on the situation in Syria’s rebel-held eastern Ghouta region.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging an immediate halt to all “war activities” in the embattled Damascus suburbs where Syrian forces have launched a deadly offensive to rout rebels from the area.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council Wednesday it’s important that all sides in the conflict present their understanding of the situation in the Damascus suburbs “and come up with the ways of getting out of the situation there.”
Nebenzia said later that Russia, a key Syrian ally, understands “there are terrorists there who the Syrian army is fighting and the terrorists are shelling heavily Damascus, and that has been neglected.”
He called the situation “complex” and “not just a one-way street.” That’s according to an audio recording from Russia’s U.N. Mission.
Nebenzia indicated Moscow’s serious concern with a proposed resolution drafted by Sweden and Kuwait calling for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, saying it isn’t realistic.
The U.N. human rights office says at least 346 people have been killed in Damascus’ opposition-controlled eastern Ghouta suburb since the Syrian government and its allies escalated their offensive on the region in Feb. 4.
In a statement on Wednesday, it says another 878 have been wounded, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas. Ninety-two of these civilian deaths allegedly occurred in just one 13-hour period on Monday.
It says the numbers are far from comprehensive, documented in the midst of the chaos and destruction.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. He said overwhelmed medical facilities have been repeatedly hit, meaning hundreds of people with extremely severe injuries face a slow and painful death.
French President Emmanuel Macron says France “vigorously” condemns war activities in the rebel-held area of eastern Ghouta in Syria.
Macron said during a news conference in Paris that “the (Syrian) regime and some of its allies have decided to target civilian populations and presumably some of its opponents.”
He called for a “truce” to ensure the evacuation of civilians and the creation of humanitarian access to the area “as soon as possible.”
Macron called for the “immediate adoption” of a U.N. resolution on the issue.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”
The U.N. chief said a suspension of fighting must allow for humanitarian aid to reach all in need and the evacuation of some 700 people needing urgent medical treatment.
Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that “this is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes and I dont think we can let things go on in this horrendous way.”
He welcomed efforts by Sweden and Kuwait who are drafting a Security Council resolution on the humanitarian crisis in Syria calling for a 30-day cease-fire.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for restraint in Syria and access to the wounded after the deadly escalation in fighting in and around Damascus in recent days.
In ICRC statement on Wednesday says the medical personnel in eastern Ghouta are unable to cope with the high number of wounded and the area doesn’t have enough medicines and supplies.
Marianne Gasser, ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria, says the “wounded victims are dying only because they cannot be treated in time.”
She called for ICRC teams to be allowed inside the area to aid the wounded.
At least 260 people have been killed in government airstrikes on rebel-held eastern Ghouta since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group which closely monitors the fighting through activists on the ground.
A Syrian doctor in the opposition-held suburbs of the capital Damascus says the number of casualties from a Syrian government air blitz is overwhelming hospitals in the besieged region.
Waleed Awata is an anesthesiologist working at a hospital in the town of Zamalka, part of the eastern Ghouta suburb under attack. He says the hospital with just 17 beds received 82 patients Tuesday night, overwhelming its modest capabilities.
“We had to give them IVs and treat them on the floor,” he tells The Associated Press.
He says the hospital was struck by barrel bombs on Tuesday, as well as sporadic artillery fire. Like many hospitals in the area, patient facilities have been moved underground to shield them from airstrikes.
No one was wounded but the generator, water tanks and several ambulances were damaged.
The Kremlin is rejecting allegations that the Russian military is responsible for civilian casualties in the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of Syria’s capital.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the claims are “unfounded.” The U.S. and others allege that Russia shares responsibility for the casualties in eastern Ghouta along with Syria.
Syrian government forces have continued to pummel the area since stepping up strikes late Sunday. At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the Syrian government’s assault on eastern Ghouta was necessary to uproot al-Qaida-linked militants.
Russia has waged an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces since September 2015.
The spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is determined to press ahead with its offensive to clear a Syrian enclave of Kurdish fighters despite an attempt by Syrian pro-government forces to enter the region.
Fighters loyal to Syria’s government entered the Afrin enclave late Tuesday to support of the Syrian Kurdish militia. They were repelled by Turkish shelling.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters Wednesday that the convoy of up to 50 vehicles had retreated east of Aleppo, adding: “It appears that their aim was a little bit of a show and a little bit of propaganda.”
The spokesman did not rule out new attempts by the group to enter Afrin but warned they would become a “legitimate target if they take sides” with the Kurdish fighters.
Turkey launched its operation on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish fighters who it regards as “terrorists” because of their links to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
The Syrian Civil Defense rescue organization says 10 people have been killed by government airstrikes and shelling on a town in the suburbs of Damascus.
The group, also known as the White Helmets, says government forces targeted Kafr Batna early Wednesday with air strikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs — crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes.
The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.
Activists say there has been no letup to the wave of airstrikes and artillery shelling on eastern Ghouta since government and Russian forces stepped up their assault late Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 250 civilians have been killed.