Russia blocks UN condemnation of civilian deaths in Idlib

Security Council statement was drafted after a month of bombings in Syria's northwest

TOPSHOT - Smoke plumes following reported airstrikes on the town of Khan Sheikhun in the southern countryside of the rebel-held Idlib province on June 3, 2019. / AFP / Anas AL-DYAB
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Russia has blocked a UN Security Council statement that sought to condemn attacks on civilians, schools and hospitals in the Syrian province of Idlib under bombardment for more than a month.

The refusal to acknowledge widespread international concern about Idlib was elaborated late on Monday by the Russian Mission to UN through a tweet which said: "We don't agree that the situation in the #NorthWest can be viewed separately from situation in other regions."

The council statement was jointly drafted by Kuwait, Belgium and Germany following alarm over bombings by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's air force and Russian planes.

Circulated at the weekend and seen by The National, it expressed grave concern at the "intensifying attacks on civilians and civilian objects, such as medical facilities and schools, and attacks by terrorist attacks designated by the Security Council".

The latter remark was a reference to Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, a coalition of militant groups, the largest of which is Jabhat Al Nusra, a former affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Russia last month blocked a separate statement also warning of a humanitarian catastrophe from an all-out assault on the Idlib region. Council statements require unanimous support by all 15 members.

Despite the identification of the role of HTS, Russia blocked the UN draft after two days of consideration, siding with the Assad regime and maintaining that military action is justified to defeat terrorism.

"The document under consideration absolutely ignored the fact that Idlib was controlled by HTS," said Russia, pointing the finger at the statement's authors and a US-led coalition's past military action against ISIS in Syria.

“We regret that our colleagues in the Security Council preferred to stick to the biased approach towards what is going on in Syria.

“The so-called humanitarian 'troika' showed no worries when the illegal coalition that is deployed in Syria was razing Hajin and Baghouz down to the ground. The 'liberated' Raqqa is still lying in ruins.”

Three million people, including one million children, are in Idlib province. Dozens of schools and hospitals have been hit in Syrian and Russian air strikes, leading to criticism of the council for its apparent inaction over casualties.

Rejection of the statement came hours after US President Donald Trump had urged Syria and Russia to "stop bombing the hell" out of the region, which borders Turkey.

The draft council statement cited a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in Idlib and said: “Those who have committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be held accountable.”

Russia, a permanent member of the council, has continued its support of Assad despite being at odds with its international counterparts at the UN since peaceful protests in 2011 against the regime developed into all-out war.

Geir Pedersen, the UN's Special Envoy to Syria, last week said the military action being undertaken in Idlib was disproportionate.

Leading powers such as US, Britain and France have urged a ceasefire but as long as Russia backs the Syrian government the Council will remain deadlocked.

“The members of the Security Council condemned the loss of innocent civilian lives, and expressed their alarm at the displacement of over 270,000 persons as a result of the recent escalation, as well as the targeting of densely populated areas and civilian infrastructure,” the rejected draft document said.