UN Security Council passes 'worthless' resolution on Eastern Ghouta

UN Security Council passes 'worthless' resolution on Eastern Ghouta
4 min read
25 February, 2018
The UN made significant concessions to get Russia to back the resolution, and whether the Syrian regime complies still remains unclear.
The UN Security Council approving the 30-day ceasefire in Syria [Getty]

The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. However, most observers don't expect the Syrian regime to halt its deadly bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, one of the last remaining rebel held areas in the country.

More than 520 have been killed since Sunday, with over 2,500 wounded as the Syrian regime rains bombs down on the Damascus suburb home to 400,000.

"Words must now quickly become action - any cessation of hostilities must be real. Attacks must stop," said Mark Lowcok, UN humanitarian chief, after welcoming the UN vote.

The UN resolution was first drafted on 9 February, but delayed so that veto member Russia could be brought on board to support the text.

The vote was postponed for several days between Thursday and Saturday, with sponsors Kuwait and Sweden amending the resolution late on Friday to satisfy Moscow.

A demand that the ceasefire take effect in 72 hours was dropped. The current text calls on hostilities to end "without delay", which experts have said leaves room for interpretation. 

In recent days, Moscow has come under growing pressure for delaying the UN vote and requesting amendments as the death toll rose dramatically in Syria.

US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley was critical of Russia for its delaying of the vote. 

"On Thursday, in an effort to stall, Russia called for an open meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria. At that meeting, 14 [out of 15] members of this council were ready to impose a ceasefire. But Russia obstructed the vote again," Haley said.

"And then yesterday [Friday], this council sat around for hours, ready to vote, only to have Russia delay yet again. Every minute this council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew," she added.

Syrian activists said the regime fired thousands of artillery and rocket fire between Friday night and Saturday alone.

Earlier in the week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to break with past behaviour at the UN, saying Moscow was willing to "consider" a draft resolution on Syria.

Russia had previously vetoed 10 security council measures related to its Syrian ally.

But later on that same day, Russia's envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia blocked a UN vote from taking place and dismissed reports of heavy civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta as "mass psychosis".

Moscow proposed a series of amendments that experts say watered down the UN draft. 

The current text, which passed on Saturday, does not cover military operations against the Islamic State group and any groups or individuals associated with "terrorist groups".

World leaders have criticised the Syrian regime for using the threat of terrorism as a pretext for deadly campaigns against civilians and other military targets.

"It is simply preposterous to claim that these attacks on civilians have anything to do with fighting terrorism," said Haley.

UN authorities publicly welcomed news of the ceasefire and said Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he expected it will "immediately be implemented and sustained".  

Privately, officials were sceptical about the prospect of the ceasefire.

One Western diplomat said that they feared the exemption for Islamic State and other groups' fighters would make the resolution "worthless", according to The Telegraph.

Kuwait's ambassador to the UN Mansour al-Otaiba said that despite the resolution's adoption "it cannot end the human suffering in Syria immediately".

The Syrian regime's latest offensive in Eastern Ghouta is expected to the first step in what may transform into a ground offensive to retake the rebel-held area.

Many experts expect the trajectory to resemble Aleppo - where weeks of air raids gave way to ground forces until the area was recaptured.

The two major rebel factions in Syria's Eastern Ghouta - Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman - have pledged to commit to a truce.

The text of the UN draft resolution "express[es] outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence escalating in several parts of the country", but makes no mention of the Syrian regime's airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta.

Some have said what it really alludes to is Turkey's campaign against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.