Russia, China veto UN resolution for cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib

Syrian fighters from the Turkish-backed NLF hold a frontline position facing regime-controlled areas in the Abu Zuhur region of the northern Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Russia, China veto UN resolution for cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib

  • The resolution demanded that counterterrorism activities comply with international humanitarian law

NEW YORK: Russia and China vetoed on Thursday a resolution backed by the vast majority of UN Security Council members that called for a cease-fire in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the country’s last opposition stronghold. 

The resolution demanded that counterterrorism activities comply with international humanitarian law. 

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalized their text on Wednesday and called for a vote on Thursday.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council the aim of the resolution  was “to save the international terrorists who are entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat.”

Syrian forces, backed by Russia, had targeted Idlib in a four-month ground and air offensive but civilians have been widely affected. A cease-fire that went into effect at the end of August has held despite some violations.

Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen countered that supporters of the purely humanitarian resolution “stand firm in our resolve to combat terrorism” — but insist that operations must ensure protection of civilians as required by international law.

The vote in the 15-member council on Thursday was 12-2 with Equatorial Guinea abstaining. Another rival resolution calling for a cease-fire in Idlib drafted by Russia and China remains to be voted on.

SPEEDREAD

Germany, Belgium and Kuwait finalized their text on Wednesday and called for a vote on Thursday. Their draft resolution called for a cessation of hostilities in Idlib governorate on Saturday.

Earlier, a senior UN official told the Security Council that the humanitarian situation in Idlib was “alarming.” An estimated 400,000 people have fled their homes in the country’s northwest in just the last four months, and around 600,000 are living in tents, camps or out in the open.

Deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller said that, following months of intensive fighting and a “fragile cease-fire,” the outlook for Idlib province remains uncertain as winter approaches.

She said humanitarian organizations estimate an addition $68.4 million is required for winterization, shelter and non-food items.

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

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 “demilitarize” 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 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 cease-fire 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.”

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.


Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

Updated 19 November 2019

Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

  • Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs shut key bridges in Baghdad
  • The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges connect both sides of the city by passing over the river

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters blocked access to a second major commercial port in southern Iraq on Tuesday, as bridge closures effectively split the capital in half, causing citizens to rely on boats for transport to reach the other side of the city.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer. Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters,” he said in remarks to reporters in Washington.
“Like the Iraqi people taking to the streets today, our sanctions will not discriminate between religious sect or ethnicity,” he added. “They will simply target those who do wrong to the Iraqi people, no matter who they are.”
Over a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to Khor Al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port imports commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Crude from Qayara oil field in Ninewa province, in northern Iraq, is also exported from the port.
Khor Al-Zubair is the second largest port in the country. Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges has shut main thoroughfares connecting east and west Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been partially occupied by protesters following days of deadly clashes, connect both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River. The blockages have left Iraqis who must make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on river boats.
“After the bridges were cut, all the pressure is on us here,” said Hasan Lilo, a boat owner in the capital. “We offer a reasonable transportation means that helps the people.”