The Latest: UN official calls for 30-day Syria cease-fire
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the situation in Syria (all times local):
The U.N. humanitarian chief briefed the Security Council on the worsening situation for civilians in Syria and the United Nations’ call for an immediate 30-day cease-fire to deliver aid and evacuate the critically ill — but the council took no action.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters a humanitarian cease-fire is “not realistic” because “the terrorists” are keeping up attacks though Moscow would like one.
Sweden and Kuwait called for Thursday’s closed-door briefing to get an update from humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock on what Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog called the “dramatic” humanitarian situation which is “deteriorating in many, many areas.”
Skoog said Sweden and Kuwait are “working on a follow-up” to a proposed council statement on the dire humanitarian situation that failed to get the unanimous council support required.
According to a council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were closed, Lowcock said the humanitarian situation was the worst since 2015, citing destruction in rebel-held Idlib from government attacks that have seen more than 300,000 civilians flee since mid-December.
Lowcock also cited the “horrific conditions” in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta where more than 700 people need immediate evacuation and malnutrition is widespread, the diplomat said.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia says he has told the U.N. Security Council that the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes on Syrian government-backed troops were “inadmissible” and “deplorable.” He says they cannot be repeated — no matter what reasons the coalition gives to justify an attack.
Nebenzia said U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley raised the issue of the airstrikes first at a closed council meeting Thursday where she defended the bombing that the U.S. military says killed about 100 fighters. The U.S.-led coalition said its action in eastern Syria was in “self-defense,” citing a major attack on its allied forces and U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour province.
Nebenzia told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that he reminded the council that the coalition wasn’t invited into Syria, and Russia sees that its fight against “international terrorism” is going “beyond that.”
He said “to confront those who really fight the international terrorists on the ground, on the Syrian side, is criminal.”
Nebenzia also said that while the humanitarian situation in Syria is “deplorable,” it is “in no way much more different than it used to be a month ago — but now we are being presented with it as if something dramatic has happened.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia says he will raise the U.S.-led coalition’s deadly airstrike on Syrian government-backed troops during closed consultations later Thursday in the U.N. Security Council.
Nebenzia told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York he was not expecting a statement from the council, which would require consensus among the 15 members including the United States.
“Let’s be realistic,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to reach it on that” attack.
The U.S.-led coalition said its action in eastern Syria was in “self-defense,” citing a major attack on its allied forces and U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour province by 500 fighters. A U.S. military official earlier said about 100 of the attackers were killed in the overnight strike.
Nebenzia said it was also “regrettable” that the Security Council wouldn’t support a statement that Russia sought Wednesday following an attack in Damascus that damaged its trade mission.
The United States says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons and bombings against civilians “must stop now.”
The State Department says it’s “extremely concerned” about growing violence in Idlib, as well as in the eastern Ghouta area near Damascus. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says there have been reports of new attacks in the last 48 hours killing “dozens” of civilians.
Nauert says the U.S. is supporting a United Nations call for a monthlong “cessation of violence.” She says the goal is to allow humanitarian aid and medical care to flow to more than 700 civilians in eastern Ghouta.
The U.S. says Russia must use its influence over Assad’s forces to ensure Syria immediately allows U.N. aid to reach vulnerable civilians.
Russia’s top diplomat for Afghanistan says there are indications that the U.S. military is allowing Islamic State fighters fleeing from Syria and Iraq to infiltrate Afghanistan.
Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin’s envoy for Afghanistan and the former Russian ambassador in Kabul, made the claim in an interview Thursday with state news agency Tass.
“It’s noteworthy that the extremists themselves and weapons for them, according to numerous witness accounts, are often transferred to the territory of Afghanistan by helicopters without identifying insignia,” he was quoted as saying.
“With the US and NATO fully controlling the skies over Afghanistan, there is every reason to believe they had a hand in that, or at least, did not hamper these flights, despite the fact that Washington and Brussels deny that,” Kabulov said.
Syrian activists say the death toll from airstrikes and shelling of eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus has risen to at least 56.
Rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, have been bombarded for days leaving scores dead and hundreds wounded.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 56 people, including 10 children, were killed on Thursday.
Siraj Mahmoud of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said 58 people were killed in the shelling and airstrikes.
The Observatory said 211 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta since Monday.
Syria has called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the new “massacre” committed by the U.S.-led coalition east of the country that killed dozens of government-backed troops.
Syria’s foreign ministry sent two messages Thursday to the U.N. secretary general and the president of the U.N. Security Council complaining about what it called a “new aggression that poses a war crime and a crime against humanity.”
It said the assault reflects the “dirty U.S. intentions against Syria’s sovereignty and territorial unity.”
The ministry urged the two sides to force the U.S.-led coalition to stop its crimes and attacks that have claimed the lives to thousands of civilians over the past three years.
SANA said earlier that forces of the US-led international coalition targeted popular forces that were fighting the Islamic State group and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
Syrian rescue workers and activists say the death toll from ongoing government strikes on the opposition-held region near the capital Damascus has risen to at least 35.
The Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said the 35 casualties were spread throughout a number of towns in the eastern Ghouta area, which is devastated by a combination of artillery and airstrikes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said it has documented at least 36 civilians killed so far, including 17 in one town, Jisreen. It said the dead includes a medic and at least 10 children.
Eastern Ghouta has an estimated 400,000 residents, who are also trapped by a tightening government siege and critical shortage of medical supplies and food. The region has been battered in an escalatory government bombing campaign. At least 169 civilians have been killed since Monday.
The Russian military says a U.S. strike on government-backed troops in eastern Syria reflects Washington’s efforts to make a grab for the nation’s economic assets.
The overnight attack, which killed about 100 according to a U.S. military, came when hundreds of attackers launched an assault on U.S.-backed forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces who were accompanied by U.S. advisers in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday the U.S. strike wounded 25 pro-government Syrian volunteers. It noted that the government-backed Syrian forces had failed to coordinate their action with the Russian military prior to launching the mission.
It said the incident “again showed that the U.S. is maintaining its illegal presence in Syria not to fight the Islamic State group, but to seize and hold Syrian economic assets.”
Syrian rescue workers and activists say at least 19 civilians, including a medic and children, have been killed in relentless government strikes on the opposition-held region near the capital Damascus.
The Syrian Civil Defense, known as White Helmets, has recorded at least 19 civilians killed Thursday in at least six towns in the eastern Ghouta area in a combination of artillery and airstrikes. Eastern Ghouta has an estimated 400,000 residents, who are also trapped by a tightening government siege and critical shortage of medical supplies and food.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said it has documented at least 23 civilians killed so far. It said the dead includes a medic and at least three children and eight women.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to hear a briefing on Thursday and then hold closed-door consultations on the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria and calls for a 30-day cease fire.
Syria’s state media say the U.S.-led coalition has bombed government-backed troops in eastern Syria, citing reports of dozens killed and wounded.
The official state news agency SANA reported on Thursday that the overnight attack hit tribal fighters in Khusham, a town in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province.
SANA says the local fighters were battling IS militants and the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. The U.S. military said late Wednesday it launched airstrikes on Syrian government-backed troops after as many as 500 attackers began what appeared to be a coordinated assault on the SDF accompanied by U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour province.
SANA called it an “aggression.” The state Al-Ikhbariyah TV said there were reports that dozens were killed.
Turkish officials say the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran will meet in Istanbul to discuss peace efforts for Syria.
The officials said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed to the summit during a telephone call on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear when the Istanbul meeting would take place.
The Turkish officials said two leaders also agreed that efforts to create “observation posts” in Syria’s Idlib province as part of a “de-escalation” agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran should gain momentum.
They discussed the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, where dozens have been killed in aerial strikes in the past few days.
The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.