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UN faces rival ceasefire resolutions in Syrian rebel area

Bombardment in Syria's Idlib since late April has claimed a mounting death toll [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2019

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Two rival resolutions have been submitted to the UN Security Council addressing the deteriorating situation in Idlib, Syria.

The UN Security Council is facing rival resolutions calling for a cease-fire in Syria's last rebel stronghold in Idlib, "to avoid a further deterioration of the already catastrophic humanitarian situation".

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalised their text Wednesday afternoon and called for a vote Thursday. Their draft resolution calls for a cessation of hostilities in Idlib governorate at noon Damascus time Saturday.

Soon after, Russia and China also put their rival text in a final form for a vote. It calls for a cessation of hostilities in September but gives no date.

Their resolution would also include exemptions for "military operations against individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with terrorist group, as designated by the Security Council".

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait, who are serving two-year terms on the Security Council, are in charge of drafting resolutions on Syria's humanitarian situation. Diplomats said they have been meeting with Russia to try to reach agreement on a text following a spate of attacks on hospitals, health facilities and aid workers.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the three countries insist that the text include language that "counter-terrorism activities" must comply with international humanitarian law, but Russia objected.

The draft resolution by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait "demands that member states ensure that all measures taken to counter terrorism, including in Idlib governorate, comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law".

It also stresses "that counter-terrorism operations do not absolve parties to armed conflicts of their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants".

And it urges all parties to the Syrian conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants, to apply the principle of "proportionality", and to take all feasible precautions "to avoid and in any event minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects".

The China-Russia draft resolution makes no mention of counter-terrorism operations but would reiterate the council's demand for all parties to comply with international law and allow access to people in need, and to immediately cease all attacks against civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel.

It also calls for all parties to "demilitarise" hospitals and other civilian facilities and avoid establishing military positions in populated areas.

On Monday, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to de-escalate the volatile situation in Idlib while combatting extremists and protecting civilians.

Idlib, which has an estimated population of 3 million, is dominated by the Al-Qaeda-linked group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russia and Iran, targeted the armed group in a four-month ground and air offensive but civilians have been widely affected.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, some already displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, have moved toward Turkey's border.

A ceasefire that went into effect at the end of August has been holding despite some violations.

A major conflict in Idlib has raised the possibility of a mass refugee flow to Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

A joint statement issued at the end of Monday's meeting said the three leaders underscored the need "to fully implement" an agreement reached between Turkey and Russia last year for a de-escalation zone in Idlib and "to take concrete steps to reduce violations".

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They expressed alarm "about the risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation", according to the statement.

"We all stand for Syria's territorial integrity and insist that after the problems of security and the fight against terrorists are resolved, Syria's territorial integrity will be fully restored. This concerns withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria's territory," the statement said.

More than 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which broke out following the brutal suppression of anti-Assad protests in 2011.

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