GENEVA – International pressure was mounting on Russia to approve a United Nations security council draft resolution on Friday that would apply a 30-day ceasefire across all of Syria and allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held Damascus suburb where hundreds of civilians, including infant children, have died in relentless government shelling and airstrikes this week.
French president Emmanuel Macron and the German chancellor Angela Merkel penned a joint letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin urging him to back the resolution, which was blocked by Russia’s UN envoy at an emergency meeting late Thursday, according to the Élysée.
“At this moment, we do not know what Russia’s attitude will be,” said the Élysée, according to a statement circulated widely by French media.
At a UN security council meeting called by Russia on Thursday evening, Moscow’s UN envoy Vassily Nebenzia threatened to use the country’s veto power to block the resolution, which was proposed by Sweden and Kuwait, until amendments were made.
Speaking to press in Moscow earlier, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, insisted his country would only support the measure if certain guarantees were met.
“Where are the guarantees that the armed groups will respect this humanitarian ceasefire?” said Moscow’s top diplomat. “And where are the guarantees that they won’t continue to bomb residential areas of Damascus. These guarantees we do not have,” he added.
Russia, the main international backer of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has repeatedly defended its operation against Eastern Ghouta as targeting terror groups, including organizations linked to al-Qaida.
The situation in the besieged area, a network of towns and small cities in the agricultural outskirts of Damascus, had deteriorated drastically since the Syrian regime and its allies intensified its bombardment of the area.
Over 400 people have died in the onslaught since Sunday and medical resources in the few field hospitals still functioning were in desperately short supply.
In a statement, the UN Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, the Administrator Achim Steiner and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowock said more international effort was needed to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“We are deeply shaken and distraught by the brutality and utter disregard for civilian lives we are witnessing in Eastern Ghouta and other parts of Syria today. We are urging an immediate ceasefire, protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and unfettered humanitarian access to Eastern Ghouta,” the joint statement read.
Turkey also joined in the chorus of condemnation, calling on Russia and Iran, another ally of Assad, to end the hostilities, adding that continued aggression contravened mechanisms to de-escalate the conflict drawn up by all three nations.