The Latest: Syria opposition urges force imposing cease-fire
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the developments in Syria (all times local):
Syrian opposition member Hadi al-Bahra is urging countries to threaten and if necessary take military action to deter all violations of the cease-fire demanded by the U.N. Security Council throughout Syria — not only for using chemical weapons.
He told an informal meeting of the Security Council on Monday: “It is feasible. It is necessary. And it is overdue.”
Al-Bahra is a member of the Syrian Negotiation Commission. He spoke to the council after U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the United States is prepared to take military action again for chemical attacks that are killing and injuring Syrian civilians.
Al-Bahra said that if Syrian ally Russia blocks the Security Council from taking measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, action should be taken outside the council to enforce its resolutions.
The United States is urging the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution ordering an immediate 30-day cease-fire in the Syrian capital Damascus and the suburbs of eastern Ghouta.
The draft resolution, circulated Monday and obtained by The Associated Press, expresses “outrage” at the lack of implementation of a resolution adopted Feb. 24 demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria without delay for at least 30 days to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the wounded and critically ill.
The U.S. draft would eliminate what U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called a “loophole” in the Feb. 24 resolution that allows military operations against al-Qaida and Islamist State extremist groups.
Haley accused Syria and its Russian allies of exploiting this loophole “to continue starving and pummeling hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians.”
The draft resolution orders all parties immediately after its adoption to allow “safe, unimpeded and sustained access” for humanitarian convoys and for medical evacuations.
It stresses that any movement of civilians must be “voluntary and to appropriate final destinations of their choice.” And it asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “to urgently develop proposals” to monitor a cease-fire and civilian movements from eastern Ghouta.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador says an immediate cease-fire in Syria “would have been utopian” and that Moscow prefers a preliminary agreement ahead of sustained de-escalation in all areas, not just the suburbs of Damascus.
Vassily Nebenzia told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that “this is the only realistic way forward,” and that it was part of a cease-fire adopted by the council last month. He said Russia is trying to implement that cease-fire, which has done little to stop the heavy fighting in eastern Ghouta, outside the capital.
He defended Syrian and Russian military operations there, saying “the suburbs of Damascus cannot remain a hotbed of terrorism.” He accused militants, including those linked to al-Qaida, of undermining the cease-fire.
The Russian ambassador also warned of a “disinformation campaign” aimed at blaming Syrian authorities for chemical attacks, saying al-Qaida-linked militants were behind a March 5 chlorine attack in eastern Ghouta.
He said such allegations are aimed at preparing the ground for the “unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria,” alluding to earlier remarks by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who warned of another military response if the gas attacks continue.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is warning Syria that the United States is prepared to take military action again for chemical attacks that are killing and wounding Syrian civilians.
Nikki Haley said that since the Security Council adopted a resolution 15 days ago demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria without delay there have been three allegations of chlorine gas attacks during a stepped up military campaign against rebels.
“This is no cease-fire,” she told the council on Monday. “The cease-fire has failed.”
She recalled the U.S. warning after last year’s sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which an expert panel blamed on President Bashar Assad’s government, that it would take action if the council didn’t.
“The Security Council failed to act and the United States successfully struck the air base from which Assad had launched this chemical attack,” Haley said. “We repeat that warning today ... the United States is prepared to act if we must.”
She accused Syria, Russia and Iran of using a loophole in the cease-fire resolution allowing military actions against al-Qaida and Islamic State militants to bomb and shell schools, hospitals and “continue starving and pummeling hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians.”
Haley said the U.S. is circulating a new resolution eliminating that loophole and demanding an immediate cease-fire in Damascus and the suburbs of eastern Ghouta to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the wounded and critically ill.
The U.N. secretary-general says attacks on the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta have intensified since the adoption of a U.N. resolution demanding a cease-fire, with Syrian government forces driving rebels from more than 60 percent of the area.
Antonio Guterres said Monday that the eastern Ghouta enclave is “now split into three separate pockets.”
Guterres was briefing the Security Council on implementation of the resolution 15 days after its unanimous adoption. It demanded a cease-fire without delay for at least 30 days to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid and evacuate the wounded and critically ill.
He noted that the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year on Thursday, saying “there has been no cessation of hostilities” and the “humanitarian and human rights situation is becoming more desperate by the day.”
Guterres said only one aid convoy has entered eastern Ghouta — making two separate deliveries — and “to our knowledge not one critically sick or wounded person has yet been evacuated.”
French President Emmanuel Macron says France is the most active country in the diplomatic field regarding Syria, after his predecessor called for no-fly zones.
At a news conference during a visit to Varanasi, India, on Monday, Macron said his country’s actions at the United Nations are “unprecedented.” He said “there’s no other country as active as us to get diplomatic results.”
Former French President Francois Hollande called Monday for no-fly zones over Syria’s Kurdish-held area of Afrin and the eastern Ghouta enclave. Hollande said Macron should keep supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria and put pressure on Russia through potential sanctions.
Macron is pushing for the full implementation of a cease-fire adopted by the U.N. Security Council last month to allow the entry of humanitarian aid to besieged areas and the evacuation of the injured and sick.
A Syrian Kurdish official says thousands of people are fleeing the northern town of Afrin as Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters get closer to the besieged Syrian town.
Ebrahim Ebrahim, a Europe-based spokesman for the largest Kurdish group in Syria, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, says those fleeing are heading toward government-controlled areas.
He said on Monday that people are fleeing out of fear that Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters might commit atrocities against the Kurds and minorities in the town.
Ebrahim described Turkey-backed fighters as “extremist groups.”
He says Turkish troops have destroyed water and power stations that supply the town of Afrin, making it difficult for people to stay.
Ebrahim blamed Russia and Turkey for what he called “war crimes that are being committed in Afrin.”
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported that civilians are leaving the town of Afrin, heading to government-controlled areas and the town of Manbij, which is held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
France’s former president Francois Hollande is calling for no-fly zones over Syria’s Kurdish-held area of Afrin and the eastern Ghouta enclave.
Hollande said in an interview to Le Monde newspaper that “it’s not possible to celebrate the liberation of some parts of Syria and let whole populations die.”
He suggested that his successor, Emmanuel Macron, keep supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters in Syria and put pressure on Russia through potential sanctions.
Hollande criticized Russia and Turkey for contributing to Syria’s crisis.
Turkey launched a solo military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG to clear them from the enclave of Afrin. Ankara considers the YPG a terror organization linked to its own Kurdish insurgency, but France backs the fighters in the war against the Islamic State group.
Syrian government forces, supported by Russia, are leading an offensive on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta.
The largest rebel group in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region, just outside the capital of Damascus, says it has agreed with Russian forces to have wounded people evacuated from the enclave.
The Army of Islam said in a statement on Monday that the agreement with the Russians was reached through the United Nations.
It says the wounded will be evacuated in stages but makes no mention if they are rebel fighters or civilians. The group also did not say when the evacuations would begin or where the wounded would be taken.
Eastern Ghouta has been under a ferocious government offensive since Feb. 18, leaving more than 1,000 civilians dead.
Syrian TV says another group of civilians has left the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta outside Damascus through a corridor established by the Syrian army
The state-run TV broadcast footage showing a small group of men, women and children it says left the town of Madyara on Monday. The town was captured by Syrian troops on Sunday.
Syrian government forces split eastern Ghouta in two amid rapid weekend advances, dealing a major setback to the rebels and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation at the doorstep of the country’s capital.
The advances also cut off key towns of Douma and Harasta from the rest of the enclave, further squeezing the residents inside them.
The U.N. estimates nearly 400,000 civilians are living under a crippling siege in eastern Ghouta.