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.


Lebanon sets out its claim in maritime border talks

Updated 29 October 2020

Lebanon sets out its claim in maritime border talks

  • A military source told Arab News: “The Lebanese side considers that Israel, through the border line it drew for itself, is eating into huge areas of Lebanese economic waters.”

BEIRUT: Lebanese negotiators laid out their claim to maritime territory on Wednesday as they began a second round of talks with Israel over their disputed sea border.
The contested zone in the Mediterranean is an estimated 860 square kilometers known as Block 9, which is rich in oil and gas. Future negotiations will also tackle the countries’ land border.
Wednesday’s meeting took place at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) amid tight security. An assistant of the UN special coordinator for Lebanon chaired the session, and the US Ambassador to Algeria, John Desrocher, was the mediator.
A military source told Arab News: “The Lebanese side considers that Israel, through the border line it drew for itself, is eating into huge areas of Lebanese economic waters.”
The Lebanese delegation produced maps and documents to support their claim to the disputed waters.
In indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel in 2012, US diplomat Frederick Hoff proposed “a middle line for the maritime borders, whereby Lebanon would get 58 percent of the disputed area and Israel would be given the remaining 42 percent, which translates to 500 square kilometers for Lebanon and 300 square kilometers for Israel.”
On the eve of Wednesday’s meeting, Lebanese and Israeli officials met to discuss a framework to resolve the conflict through the implementation of UN Resolution 1701.
UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col praised the “constructive role that both parties played in calming tensions along the Blue Line” and stressed the necessity of “taking proactive measures and making a change in the prevailing dynamics regarding tension and escalation.”