Russia demands UN Security Council meeting on Eastern Ghouta

Russia demands UN Security Council meeting on Eastern Ghouta
Following the UN chief's condemnation of the unfolding tragedy in Syria, Russia has called for a UN Security Council meeting for all sides to 'present their understanding of the situation'
3 min read
22 February, 2018
Russia's UN envoy Vassily Nebenzia with the UN chairman Antonio Guterres [Getty]

Russia called for a UN Security Council meeting to be held Thursday on the violence engulfing Eastern Ghouta, after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the rebel-held Syrian enclave as "hell on earth" for civilians living there. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council on Wednesday that the open meeting would allow all sides to "present their vision, their understanding of the situation and come up with ways of getting out of this situation."

"I think this is necessary given the concern that we heard today," he added.

He spoke shortly after Guterres called for an immediate halt to "war activities" in Eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people were living "in hell on earth."

"This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don't think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way," he added.

The Russian ambassador later said the appeals from the UN chief and Western powers to halt the violence in Eastern Ghouta were one-sided and did not consider the Syrian government's stance.

"There are terrorists there who the Syrian army is fighting and the terrorists are shelling Damascus," Nebenzia said, adding "that is being neglected."

"It's a complex situation and not just a one-way street," he said, according to remarks released by the Russian mission.

Russia earlier that day denied having any role in the brutal bombardment, that has reportedly targeted six hospitals in the region. However Russian jets were spotted over the besieged Damascus suburb.

'Eastern Ghouta cannot wait'

Guterres expressed support for a bid at the Security Council to agree on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.

Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9, but negotiations have been tough-going, with Russia raising objections to the proposed truce, diplomats said

"I fully support that effort, but I believe Eastern Ghouta cannot wait," Guterres told the council.

The negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia have escalated a fierce offensive on Eastern Ghouta.

Close to 300 civilians have been killed since Sunday including 24 Syrians who died when government warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters he hoped that a vote on the draft resolution demanding the ceasefire could take place "in the next few days," possibly as early as Thursday.

Asked whether there was a consensus on the draft text, Skoog said: "That, I don't know yet."

Russia has resorted to its veto power at the council to block resolutions targeting its Syrian ally.  

The latest draft text circulated last week calls for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.