The UN security council has been locked in last-minute wrangling over the details of a proposed 30-day ceasefire across Syria to allow for emergency humanitarian deliveries and medical evacuations.
The backroom negotiations on Friday followed an appeal by French and German leaders to Vladimir Putin, asking for Russia to stop blocking its passage, pointing to the dire situation of the trapped civilian population in the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta, suburb of Damascus.
The draft resolution calls for a nationwide truce to come into force within 72 hours of its adoption, but it is not clear how forces in Syria would respond even if it was passed.
Eastern Ghouta has come under particularly intense regime bombardment in recent days as the government of Bashar al-Assad seeks to crush the resistance in the district, home to an estimated 400,000 people. Reports from the area said that more than 400 civilians had been killed there this week, and that hospitals and clinics had been directed targeted.
The security council negotiations on Friday were focused on addressing Russian objections to the version put forward by Sweden and Kuwait.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had signalled earlier in the day that Russia would consider supporting the 30-day ceasefire if the US would guarantee that rebel groups would stick to it.
A security council vote scheduled for 11am local time in New York was postponed until 2.30pm while diplomats discussed the text behind closed doors, with the US adding edits aimed at addressing Russian demands.
“There are no guarantees that [the rebels] will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Lavrov said in a briefing about discussions of a UN ceasefire resolution for Syria.
“That’s why for the resolution to be efficient – and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so – we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta.”
The 10 non-permanent, elected members to the council said they were united behind the draft ceasefire resolution and wanted it passed on Friday. Mansour al-Otaibi, the envoy from Kuwait, who co-wrote the resolution, said the council was “so close” to adopting the resolution.
Regime gains in Damascus
A 2016 ceasefire agreed with Russia, intended to safeguard the citizens of Aleppo, collapsed on the day it was supposed to take effect, as regime forces pressed on with an offensive that ultimately led to the fall of the rebel enclave.
The letter Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel sent to Putin on Friday said the continuing attacks on civilian populations represented “clear violations of international humanitarian law”.
A statement by the French president’s office said: “In the face of the suffering of the people of eastern Ghouta, France and Germany call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the implementation of a humanitarian truce to allow aid to be provided to civilian populations and emergency medical evacuations to take place, as has been requested by the United Nations. France and Germany call on Russia to assume its full responsibilities in this regard.”
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, called on Friday for an immediate ceasefire and aid deliveries in eastern Ghouta after more than 400 civilians were killed there since Sunday.
Why is the regime targeting eastern Ghouta?
Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held enclave bordering the Syrian capital, Damascus. Since 2013, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have imposed a suffocating and deadly siege on the area. Yet several insurgent factions have retained control.
This month, Syria’s army launched one of the most intense bombardments of the war, saying their assault was necessary to end rebel mortar strikes on the capital. Residents accuse Russia of also bombing Ghouta, a mixture of dense suburbs and fields that once served as the breadbasket for Damascus.
“The massacre in eastern Ghouta must stop now,” Mogherini said. “The European Union is running out of words to describe the horror being experienced by the people of eastern Ghouta.”
Bodycam footage shows children being rescued from rubble in eastern Ghouta, Syria – video
On Friday, for a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by Syrian government forces and their allies pounded densely populated eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.
The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.
At least 436 people have been killed and many hundreds injured in less than a week, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. The dead include at least 99 children.
Previous attempts at a cessation of hostilities in Syria have quickly unravelled.
This week’s sustained air campaign has led to strident criticism from aid agencies, but until Friday had generated little diplomatic momentum despite repeated claims that the attacks constituted war crimes.