Nations Demand Cease-Fire in Idlib 02/28 06:18
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United States and key Western allies on Thursday
demanded an immediate cease-fire in Syria's last opposition stronghold in
northwestern Idlib which is facing what the U.N. calls an "unfolding
humanitarian catastrophe," but Russia ignored their calls and said it will keep
helping the government eliminate "terrorists" from Idlib.
The standoff came at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria where the
U.N.'s deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller said almost 950,000 people have
fled an advancing Syrian government offensive since it began on Dec. 1. She
described a video conversation last week with 14 Syrian women in Idlib and
northern Aleppo who are humanitarian workers and said what is happening "is
beyond imagination" and "not humanly tolerable."
"They told me of children so traumatized they no longer speak" and said the
situation is so stressful that pregnant women are experiencing early
deliveries, miscarriage and low-birth weights, Mueller said. The women also had
a message: "All we are asking is for the misery to stop, for the killing to
stop. We want the right to live."
Henrietta Fore, the head of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said tens of
thousands of those who have fled, more than half of them children, "are now
living in makeshift tents, public buildings and in the open air, huddled under
trees --- exposed to rain, snow and the sub-zero cold of a harsh Syrian
winter," adding "we've heard and read reports of children freezing to death."
In the northwest, she said, 180 schools are not operating and "286,000
children have had their education cruelly snatched away."
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, who called the reports from Idlib
"stomach-turning," told the council: "If we are to end the humanitarian crisis
in northwest Syria, we must concentrate all of our efforts on immediately
establishing a durable and verifiable cease-fire --- one brokered by a fully
"This will require Russia to ground its planes at once and tell the (Syrian)
regime to pull back its forces," she said.
But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia ignored cease-fire calls not
only from the U.S. but from France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Estonia and
other council members.
And he downplayed the humanitarian crisis.
"We believe it was possible to predict this and prepare for this situation,
especially regarding the winter period."
Nebenzia said Turkey isn't providing any obstacles to cross-border
deliveries to Idlib and humanitarian workers have plenty of supplies and funds
"so why hasn't this problem been resolved?"
He also said the reason people are dying is from heaters catching fire in
their temporary tents, rather than from freezing, and he urged humanitarian
workers and the companies supplying the heaters to address the heater issue to
prevent future deaths.
More broadly, he said: "The only long-term solution to the problem of Idlib
--- and to be frank of Syria as a whole --- is a final and irreversible
expulsion from the country of all terrorists."
Many countries have said there are only a small number of fighters.
Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Jonathan Allen noted that Russia's
ambassador to the United Kingdom said in a media interview Wednesday "that
terrorists make up one percent of the population of Idlib."
"Even if there aren't very many fighters," Nebenzia said, "they are still
capable of carrying out their atrocities across the entire province, so their
number doesn't really matter. This is an irrelevant argument."
Allen countered that "international law does not permit you to attack the 99
percent to handle one percent."
France's U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere said the fight against terrorism
shouldn't allow Syria and Russia "to indiscriminately strike all opponents,
whether terrorists or not, and the civilian population in passing."
And Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the council: "Let me be
clear: conducting counter-terrorism measures doesn't absolve anyone from
respecting international humanitarian law."
"Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are war crimes," he said. "And
those responsible must be held accountable."
Maas said the Security Council should ensure humanitarian access and step up
efforts to find a political solution.
The six Western ambassadors on the Security Council joined by the Dominican
Republic, Niger and Tunisia met Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday
to press for U.N. action on Idlib.
"We urgently request that the U.N. formally launch an immediate initiative
to secure a cease-fire in northwest Syria in close consultation with the
relevant parties and the U.N. Security Council," the nine ambassadors said in a
statement obtained by The Associated Press.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday the ongoing
military operations and impact on civilians "highlight the clear and pressing
need for an immediate ceasefire and to end to constant violations of
international humanitarian law."
"Without urgent action, the risk of even more catastrophic consequences is
growing by the hour," Dujarric warned.