Russia and China block UN ceasefire bid for Idlib

US and European powers express frustration after resolution is vetoed

TOPSHOT - Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) clear debris during their search for survivors following a reported airstrike by Syrian regime forces in  Maaret al-Numan in Syria's northwestern Idlib province on August 28, 2019.  / AFP / Omar HAJ KADOUR
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Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access to civilians under siege in the north-west Syrian province of Idlib, the country’s last rebel bastion.

The 13th veto by Russia over almost nine years of war in Syria was condemned by the US and other leading members of the council.

Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, said Russia's decision had been based on “lies and disinformation” and showed Moscow was “not interested in protecting the people of Idlib”.

“What Russia cares about is protecting Bashar Al Assad,” she said, referring to the Syrian president who, backed by Russian air power, has been bombing parts of Idlib since late April.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and more than half a million displaced, according to UN agencies.

Thursday's failed resolution, drafted by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium, had been under consideration among the council's 15 members for three weeks.

It went to a vote despite the knowledge that Russia and China, who as permanent members of the council hold veto power, would not support it.

The draft text had called for all parties to “cease hostilities to avoid a further deterioration in the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Idlib governorate”. The ceasefire would have began at noon on September 21.

“Those who are carpet bombing Idlib must be held responsible," said France’s ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de la Riviere. "We work on the basis that if you break it you own it.”

Kuwait's UN ambassador, Mansour Al Otaibi, said the council had again failed to protect the people of Idlib.

Twelve members supported the resolution and there was one abstention.

In a measure largely seen as a spoiler, Russia and China on Wednesday circulated a competing resolution, purportedly aimed at addressing “serious concern over the dominance of terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone, controlling more than 90 per cent of its territory”.

It said that the “cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with terrorist groups”.

The Russian-Chinese resolution was not supported by any other member of the council, receiving nine rejections and four abstentions.

Russia announced a ceasefire in Idlib on August 31 after pressure from fellow council members over its role in supporting the Assad regime.

That fragile truce has been broken by Russian and Syrian strikes and ground skirmishes on several occasions, although the rate of strikes has fallen.

Russia and Syria have both said their military operation is targeting terrorists, not civilians.

But the UN says the use of force has been indiscriminate and disproportionate, hitting hospitals, schools and other civilian sites.