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U.N. to vote on 30-day humanitarian cease-fire in Syria

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 23, 2018

By Edith M. Lederer Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council scheduled a vote Friday on a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The resolution would allow attacks directed at extremists from the Islamic State group and all al-Qaida affiliates including the Nusra Front to continue. The Syrian government and its Russian allies say they are pursuing Islamic extremists they call “terrorists” – and U.S.-backed forces are also going after IS and al-Qaida militants.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called a 30-day cease-fire unrealistic and said it couldn’t be enforced.

But Sweden and Kuwait, which sponsored the resolution, have been pressing for immediate action as deaths mount in a Syrian bombing campaign in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta.

They rejected a key Russian-proposed amendment that would have ruled out an immediate cease-fire. The amendment would have demanded that all parties “stop hostilities as soon as possible” and work for a “humanitarian pause” for at least 30 days.

Whether Russia will veto or abstain in the upcoming vote remains to be seen.

The Security Council was originally scheduled to vote at 8 a.m. PST, but the vote was delayed until mid-afternoon, and then delayed again while last-minute negotiations continued.

“We are so close to adopt this resolution,” Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaiba, the current council president, told reporters. “We are almost there.”

A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were closed, said negotiations were focusing on the timing of a cease-fire. No new time was set for a vote.

The text the sponsors circulated Friday morning demands that a 30-day cease-fire take effect 72 hours after the resolution is adopted.

“It is about saving lives,” Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said. “U.N. convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go. It’s time for the council to come together and shoulder its responsibility to urgently avert a situation that is beyond words in its desperation.”

The final draft does include several other Russian proposals.

It stresses the need for “guarantees” from countries with influence on government and opposition forces to support and create conditions for a lasting cease-fire. The sponsors also added language expressing “outrage” at the shelling of Damascus, including on diplomatic premises, which is a proposal Russia wanted.

Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in eastern Ghouta, where he said 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”

The draft resolution demands that as soon as the cease-fire takes effect, all parties should allow humanitarian convoys and medical evacuations in areas requested by the United Nations.

It states that 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities are in “acute need,” including 2.9 million in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

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