United Nations – Russia and China nixed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Thursday that called for a truce in northwest Syria, where government forces seek to overtake the last rebel stronghold in the country’s brutal civil war.
The double-veto marked the thirteenth time Moscow blocked UN action on Syria, and the seventh time for Beijing, in an eight-year conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and divided world powers.
The document, drafted by Kuwait, Belgium and Germany, called for a ceasefire in the northwestern province of Idlib by midday on September 21 and a halt to an aerial bombing campaign that has killed civilians and medical staff and destroyed hospitals.
Equatorial Guinea, which holds a two-year council seat, abstained and the remaining 12 members of the body voted in favour.
Voting against the document, Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, said the text did not include a carve-out for military operations against UN-designated “extremist” groups.
The document was designed to “save the international terrorists who are entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat”, Nebenzia told diplomats in New York City.
Later, Russia and China put forward their own draft resolution demanding a ceasefire in northwest Syria, but it failed to secure enough votes.
Western states have repeatedly accused Russian and Syrian forces of targeting civilians, ambulances and clinics during an offensive to recapture Idlib province, which began in late April.
Moscow and Damascus deny this saying they’re striking fighters including Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a hardline militia that controls much of northwest Syria and was formerly known as al-Nusra Front and had links to al-Qaeda.
Addressing reporters before the vote, France’s UN ambassador Nicolas de Riviere described a “real tragedy” in Syria that is “worse than ever” and bashed opponents of the Kuwaiti-Belgian-German text.
“Those … who object to humanitarian access to Syria, those who are currently carpet-bombing Idlib, will be held accountable,” said de Riviere.
“Those who are doing so will have to pay for the reconstruction. We act on the principle ‘you broke it, you own it’.”
Idlib is home to three million people, half of whom were already internally displaced from areas captured by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The strategic province borders Turkey and lies on a key highway connecting Damascus and Aleppo.
Ursula Mueller, the UN’s deputy emergency relief coordinator, said 400,000 Syrians had fled their homes between May and August in northwest Syria, where some 600,000 people live in tents, camps and other makeshift dwellings.
“Following months of intensive fighting, the outlook in northwest Syria remains uncertain,” said Mueller, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, while calling for an extra $68.4m for the approaching cold season.
“We know, though, that winter is coming. Humanitarian organisations are already planning how to help people in need before temperatures drop and inclement weather arrives.”
On September 30, a new UN three-member team headed by Lieutenant-General Chikadibia Obiakor will start investigating attacks on hospitals and other civilian sites in northwest Syria. Campaigners have expressed fears the probe’s findings will be kept secret.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he launched the investigation after claims, especially from human rights and aid groups, that civilian facilities were targeted after their coordinates were shared with the Syrian and Russian militaries.
Russia intervened in Syria’s long-running war almost four years ago in support of Assad, while neighbouring Turkey has long supported some rebel groups in Idlib.
Those two countries brokered a de-escalation deal for Idlib that has been in place since September 2018, but which has faltered in recent months.