U.N. approves cease-fire in Syria after week's death toll passes 500

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Feb. 24, 2018 at 3:32 PM
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Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a 30-day cease-fire in Syria after a week of intense bombing by the Syrian government killed 500 civilians and wounded hundreds more.

In the resolution, all parties were asked to "cease hostilities without delay" for at least 30 days to allow the "safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded."

The 15-member Security Council had been unable to approve a resolution to assist eastern Ghouta, which is a suburb of Damascus.

Russia, which has veto power, backs President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government and wanted amendments to the draft resolution and blocked a vote before Saturday. Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, demanded that all parties halt fighting "without delay," including the Islamic State group.

Ultimately, Russia backed down and approved the resolution without wording change.

Nikki R. Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Russia for delaying tactics for the resolution, which was backed by every other Security Council member.

"In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and shelling?" she asked after the vote. "How many more images did we need to see of fathers holding their dead children? All for nothing, because here we are voting for a cease-fire that could have saved lives days ago."

President Donald Trump, in a rare rebuke of Russia, criticized the bombings earlier this week.

"What Russia, and what Iran and what Syria have done recently is a humanitarian disgrace," President Donald Trump said Friday during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the White House. "What those three countries have done to people over a short period of time is a disgrace."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is monitoring the conflict from Great Britain, said 121 of the victims in this week's bombings are children. On Saturday, it said 29 civilians died, including 17 in the main town, Douma, of the eastern Ghouta region.

The group said Syrian and Russian planes were carrying out the strikes. About 393,000 people remain trapped there, hiding in underground bunkers with little or no electricity, and little food.

"The situation is disastrous, kids didn't eat for two days in a row," one activist told the Guardian.

"We have large numbers of babies under the age of six months lacking formula, whose mothers [don't have milk] to breastfeed them."

The United Nations said Tuesday in a statement: "No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones."

Then it left 10 lines blank, because "we no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage. Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts? "

Russia and Syria have denied direct involvement.

The Syrian government said it is trying to liberate Eastern Ghouta from "terrorists," which is considers to be jihadist militants and mainstream rebel groups.

Bombing raids have included medical buildings as doctors struggle to take care of the victims.

Syrian government forces began the bombardment Sunday before a planned ground operation to recapture the opposition-held area. Eastern Ghouta is part of de-escalation zones endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, where acts of aggression are prohibited.

But several hundred have been killed since Dec. 29.

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