UN Security Council to vote on Syria ceasefire
TUNIS - The UN Security Council is to vote on a motion calling for a 1-month ceasefire across Syria to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
On February 24, nine of the 15 Security Council members must vote in favour of the motion for it to pass. It will also need the council’s permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — to withhold their vetoes.
Moscow's current support for the present motion is uncertain. Earlier in the week, Russian diplomats claimed it was “simply unrealistic” for the Security Council to impose peace across Syria without seeking input from the conflict’s belligerents. However, despite its public misgivings, Russia has since indicated that it will not use its veto to block the motion.
Despite this, Russia’s right to participate in any Security Council vote on Syria has also been disputed. The Syrian National Coalition, a bloc of opposition groups, contested Russia’s participation in the Security Council vote. Coalition Vice-President Salwa Aksoy, speaking in Turkey, said that under UN rules Russia’s role as a belligerent in the conflict — Russian airpower has proved critical in the Syrian regime’s campaign in Eastern Ghouta — disqualified it from voting.
The death toll has been mounting in recent weeks across Syria, with bombings in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, the Kurdish province of Afrin and across the northern province of Idlib ratcheting up civilian casualty numbers.
In Eastern Ghouta especially, the violence has been unremitting. Following a surge in regime air strikes from Sunday 18 onwards, twenty-two hospitals and clinics within east Ghouta are reported to have been hit, leading to claims by NGOs and monitors that health care within the region was being systematically destroyed.
Civilians in the area claimed Russian planes were involved in the air strikes, saying they could identify them because they fly at higher altitudes than Syrian planes.
“The devastating truth about the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ghouta is that the unspeakable suffering we are witnessing was deliberately planned and meticulously implemented over time,” Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy and partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights, said in a release February 21.
“The current situation is the lethal result of a conscious strategy of besiegement, blocking of aid and, ultimately, the illegal destruction of civilian targets with bombs — a tactic the Syrian government and its allies initiated in Aleppo, and are now repeating with brutality in Eastern Ghouta.”
Monitoring groups said health-care facilities in Eastern Ghouta were singled out by regime and Russian air strikes. Mona Zeineddine, communications director of the Violations Documentation Centre, which tracks rights violations in Syria, told the Guardian: “We have observed and documented that the Syrian government targeted the medical points with directed rockets.”
“This is important to note because the Syrian regime is largely using unguided and improvised bombs but, when it comes to hospitals and medical points, guided and directed rockets are used. Also, when a particular medical site is hit once, it is then hit again when first responders arrive," Zeineddine said.