UN official: Hundreds killed despite Ghouta ceasefire, aid delivery “collapsed”
Russia and Syria clashed with the US and its Western allies Wednesday over responsibility for the failure of a cease-fire to take hold in Syria as the UN said humanitarian convoys are ready to head to 10 locations including besieged eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus.
The contentious Security Council meeting four days after members adopted a resolution demanding a cease-fire “without delay” for at least 30 days throughout Syria to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the critically ill and wounded reflected frustration and anger on both sides at the continued fighting and bombing.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock asked council members: “When will your resolution be implemented?”
Lowcock said convoys are ready to go to 10 besieged and hard-to-reach locations including 45 trucks with aid for 90,000 people in Douma in eastern Ghouta. He said that since February 18, over 580 people are reported to have been killed and well over 1,000 injured in air and ground strikes in Damascus, home to about 400,000 people.
Lowcock also warned that delivery of aid across conflict lines to millions of people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas throughout Syria “has totally collapsed.”
“Unless this changes,” he declared, “we will soon see even more people dying from starvation and disease than from the bombing and the shelling.”
Russia ordered a five-hour daily humanitarian pause starting Tuesday to allow civilians to exit eastern Ghouta. But no civilians have left, and no humanitarian aid has entered.
Russia asked council members to support a presidential statement asking all countries to ensure that armed groups support the Russian humanitarian corridors. The US, supported by other Western nations, objected because the statement didn’t reflect the resolution’s demands, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because consultations were private.
Lowcock reiterated the International Committee of the Red Cross’ assessment that it is impossible to deliver humanitarian aid in five hours, noting that it often takes convoys with all the required clearances a day just to get through checkpoints.
Kelley Currie, the US ambassador for economic and social affairs, called a five-hour pause “cynical, callous, and in flagrant defiance of the demands” for a cessation of hostilities “for at least 30 days - every day, all day.”
“Russia does not get to unilaterally rewrite the terms of the resolution they negotiated and they sat here and voted for,” she said.
“Russia, Iran and the Assad regime are not even trying to hide their intentions,” Currie told the council. “They are asking civilians to leave eastern Ghouta on the false premise that they can then attack anyone left in the area as much as they would like.”
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari echoed Russia’s criticism of the West telling the council “the main responsibility for ceasing hostilities is on groups that have influence on terrorist groups.”
“We are supportive of the cease-fire, the cessation of hostilities with some conditions,” he told reporters later. “We cannot do it alone. ... You need to have a commitment by the supporters of these terrorists in eastern Ghouta to implement the resolution, meaning stopping sending weapons.”