The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria ‘without delay’ to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.
The sponsors, Kuwait and Sweden, amended the resolution late on Friday in a last-minute attempt to get Russian support, dropping a demand that the cease-fire take effect in 72 hours.
The resolution comes as air strikes on the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Saturday took the civilian death toll from seven days of devastating bombardment to more than 500.
As she headed into the meeting, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said: ‘Today we are going to see if Russia has a conscience.’
‘Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,’ the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the Security Council, accusing Russia of stalling.
‘As they dragged out the negotiations, the bombs from Assad’s fighter jets continued to fall. In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?’
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected accusations of foot-dragging, saying that negotiations were needed to arrive at a demand for a ceasefire that was ‘feasible.’
Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said before the vote that the resolution could de-escalate violence and save lives.
‘The UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go,’ he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 35 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. A night of heavy bombardment sparked fires in residential districts, it said.
The Observatory has said the air strikes are being carried out by Syrian and Russian forces. Moscow, which intervened militarily in support of its Damascus ally in 2015, has denied any direct involvement in the Eastern Ghouta bombardment.
US President Donald Trump on Friday said Russia’s recent actions in Syria were a ‘disgrace’.
On Friday the vote on a UN-backed ceasefire was again delayed by at least 24 hours.
But on Saturday, the meeting again failed to start as scheduled at 1700 GMT as negotiations continued in an effort to avert a Russian veto.
UN Security Council members had been discussing a cessation of hostilities for the last month to allow aid to be brought in and the injured to be taken out.
But negotiations have been bogged down over a number of issues, including when the ceasefire should begin.
Moscow said that it wanted to include a 30-day calming period to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations but critics say that as the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad, it is in fact suing for more time.
The Security Council members were unable to agree on the precise language that could gain Russia’s support.
As a permanent member of the council, Moscow has veto power, and has used it at least 10 times to protect the government of President Assad.
Syrian opposition activists say Russian warplanes are taking part in bombarding eastern Ghouta, where many people are hiding in underground shelters with little food and medical supplies amid a tight government siege.
“There is no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread and no baby formula,” said paramedic Siraj Mahmoud in an audio message calling for a short break in airstrikes so residents can get food for their children. “There is nothing inside Ghouta.”