Russia signals progress on aid to Homs in Syria
Russia also says that “it’s a wrong move” to discuss any new resolution in the Security Council on Syria aid
The Syrian government and rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad appear to have reached an agreement on allowing humanitarian aid to reach the besieged city of Homs, Reuters reported the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Thursday.
“The issue of humanitarian access to the old city of Homs is being discussed,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news conference.
“Judging by the latest information, it appears that such an agreement between the opposition and the government has already been reached,” he said without giving more detail.
Before Lukashevich’s statement, Russia opposed on Wednesday a new U.N. Security Council resolution on the humanitarian plight in Syria as Western and Arab nations prepared to push for a better access to aid in the war-torn country.
“We are against moving to a resolution now in the Security Council,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters at Russia’s U.N. Mission.
Churkin added: “We believe that it’s a wrong move. It’s not a good time to have any resolution discussed in the Security Council.”
About 9.3 million Syrians need help, according to the United Nations. U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos has also repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape have slowed the delivery of humanitarian assistance to a trickle.
For almost a year, Western members of the 15-member Security Council have been considering a resolution on aid. After months of talks, the council eventually made a non-binding statement on Oct. 2 urging more access to aid.
But the statement produced only a little administrative progress, such as visas for aid workers and clearance for convoys.
There was no action being implemented on big issues such as the demilitarization of schools and hospitals, and access to besieged and hard-to-reach communities.
The Syrian government has the backing of both Russia and China, which have vetoed three previous Western-backed resolutions that would have pressured President Bashar Assad to end the violence.
In October, the deeply divided council did come together to approve a weaker presidential statement appealing for immediate access to all areas of the country to deliver aid to millions of civilians.
But Churkin made clear that Moscow is not prepared to go further, saying what is needed is for both sides - and countries with influence on them - to address and resolve specific humanitarian situations.
He said the latest information he saw on Tuesday was that an agreement on who would be allowed to leave Homs, and when and how humanitarian assistance would be supplied to the city, “is about to happen.”
He described the first meeting between the government and opposition in Geneva as “a good start of talks” after three years of bloody civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people, according to activists.
Like the Syrian government, Churkin said terrorists “are to a large extent behind this tragic humanitarian situation” and fighting terrorism “should be one of the priorities in the discussions in Geneva.”
However, he said both sides also need to discuss what happens in the future, including elections and how to form a transitional body.
Churkin said Ahmad al-Jarba, head of the opposition delegation, held four hours of talks in Moscow Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Associated Press reported.
Jarba assured the Russians “that they mean business, so we hope that is going to transpire during the second round of talks” scheduled to start on Feb. 10.
“But this is definitely something which requires a lot of patience and perseverance,” Churkin said.
He said Al-Jarba told Lavrov the opposition delegation needs to be more representative.
“The more the opposition delegation is representative, the easier and more productive those discussions are going to be,” Churkin said.
On other issues, Churkin said that despite the Syrian government’s failure to meet another deadline Wednesday for destroying its chemical weapons, “we are confident that the project ultimately is going to be accomplished in a timely manner.”
Western council diplomats said the draft resolution would include most aspects of the council’s October statement, which urged Syria to allow cross-border aid deliveries and called on the combatants to allow pauses in fighting to help humanitarian aid convoys. The draft would also call for access to besieged areas such as Homs.
“We are determined to move ahead. We expect to circulate the text of a resolution this week,” Reuters quoted a senior U.N. diplomat as saying.
“We’re not aiming for a Russian veto. We’re aiming for a resolution that everybody can agree. That is what we want.”
Meanwhile, Churkin said it was a “mistake” not to invite Iran to the last round.
(With Reuters and Associated Press)
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