UNITED NATIONS / Reuters
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the UN Security Council fails to act on Syria, as the Syrian army’s onslaught in eastern Ghouta continued unabated.
The United States asked the Security Council to demand an immediate 30-day ceasefire in Damascus and rebel-held eastern Ghouta, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups which are shelling the capital. The army’s onslaught in eastern Ghouta, backed by air and artillery strikes, has killed about 1,160 people since February 18, a war monitoring group said, as Assad seeks to crush the last big rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.
“It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again,” Haley told the 15-member Security Council. “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are
compelled to take their own action.”
The United States bombed a Syrian government air base last year over a deadly chemical weapons attack. The Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire across Syria in a unanimously adopted February 24 resolution.
Russia and Damascus say a ceasefire ordered by the UN Security Council does not protect the fighters in eastern Ghouta, arguing that they are members of banned terrorist groups.
“There has been no cessation of hostilities,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Violence continues
in eastern Ghouta and beyond — including in Afrin, parts of Idlib and into Damascus and its suburbs.”
“No sieges have been lifted … To our knowledge, not one critically sick or wounded person has yet been evacuated. Russia’s UN envoy Vassily Nebenzia also said some states were accusing the Syrian government of carrying our chemical weapons attacks in a bid to “prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria.”
“We have heard hints of that in the statements of some delegations today,” Nebenzia said. “Basically steps are being weighed which could hit regional stability very, very hard.” Elsewhere, Syrian jets also struck rebel-held towns in the country’s south, the first aerial attacks on the area since the United States and Russia brokered a deal making it a “de-escalation zone” last year, rebels and residents said.
The Trump administration frequently points to the de-escalation zone as a sign of progress it can achieve with Moscow on reducing the violence in Syria. But, the US State Department said it was very concerned by the violence and called an “urgent meeting” in Jordan to ensure maintenance of the de-escalation zone.
“If (reports of the strikes are) true, this would be a clear violation of the (southwest) ceasefire by the Syrian regime that broadens the conflict,” a State Department official said. “We urge all parties in the southwest de-escalation zone not to take actions that would jeopardize the ceasefire and make
future cooperation more difficult.”
The assault on Ghouta is one of the heaviest in the war, which enters its eighth year this week. Thousands of families are sleeping in the open in the streets of the biggest town in the enclave, where there is no longer any room in packed cellars to shelter from government bombardment, local authorities said. At least 70 people had been buried in a town park because air strikes made it unsafe to reach the cemetery on the outskirts, it said. In a video filmed inside Douma, one man cowering in a heavily damaged shelter said: “It is completely uninhabitable. It is not even safe to put chickens in. There is no bathroom, just one toilet, and there are 300 people.”