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US accuses Russia of blocking efforts to halt Eastern Ghouta bloodshed

The United States has accused Russia of blocking efforts to halt bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta as the Syrian regime con...

Posted: Feb 23, 2018 11:55 AM
Updated: Feb 23, 2018 11:55 AM

The United States has accused Russia of blocking efforts to halt bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta as the Syrian regime continues to pound the rebel-held enclave outside Damascus.

Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelley Currie told the UN Security Council on Thursday that the US was ready to vote on a resolution for a ceasefire in the besieged region "right here and right now."

A draft resolution put forward by Sweden and Kuwait on Wednesday called for a 30-day halt in the fighting to allow for critical aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

"There is no reason to delay. Literally the minute this meeting ends, this Council can take the clearest possible step to help: vote for a ceasefire, and vote for humanitarian access," Currie said. "What the people of eastern Ghouta need is not complicated."

But the UN was deadlocked Thursday over calling for the temporary ceasefire, and it was unclear when or whether the resolution would be put to a vote.

"If adopted, this resolution would entail decisive and meaningful action that would make a difference on the ground for the civilian population in Syria. UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go," Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said, adding that he hoped the council could vote on the resolution on Friday.

'Mass psychosis'

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia argued against the proposal, questioning if all involved would comply with its terms.

He said there was a "mass psychosis by global media" making the current situation into another Aleppo - another Syrian city that had been pummeled by airstrikes and firepower as pro-Syrian forces wrested control from ISIS, finally capturing it late last year.

The Swedish ambassador said Russia had proposed new amendments which would be looked at, and that a vote could happen likely on Friday if the language could be worked out.

Intensified shelling by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces has left more than 300 people dead and 1,745 injured in Eastern Ghouta since Sunday evening, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In response to the regime bombardment, rebel groups have fired into the Syrian capital this week, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens, state media has reported.

Syria says it is targeting terrorist groups in Eastern Ghouta. But the United Nations and others accuse it of denying civilians their basic rights.

President Bashar al-Assad's main ally Russia has said it would not support a truce that extended to terrorist groups including ISIS and Fateh al-Sham, which was previously known as Jabhat al Nusra before renouncing its ties to al Qaeda.

As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia has the power to veto any draft resolution.

"The Russian permanent representative also asked that we 'come up with ways of getting out of this situation.' Yet it appears to be intent on blocking any meaningful effort to do so," Currie noted in her remarks.

The bombing continues

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock in his briefing by teleconference said "over the past 24 hours, heavy shelling and aerial bombardment on multiple communities in East Ghouta reportedly continued, resulting, it is reported, in the death of at least 50 people and wounding at least 200," he said. He added that according to some sources, the total death toll since 19 February was close to 300 people.

At least seven health facilities were hit in one day, Lowcock said. "The only primary health care centre in Modira town was reportedly rendered out of service by airstrikes. A hospital in Duma city sustained significant damage from nearby barrel bombs. Also in Duma city, an obstetrics center was damaged."

He said there'd been 23 attacks on vital civilian infrastructure reported since February 19.

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