Russia blocks UN condemnation of civilian deaths in Idlib

Security Council statement was drafted after a month of bombings in Syria's north-west

Displaced Syrian children play at a camp for internally displaced people near Kah, in the northern Idlib province near the border with Turkey on June 3, 2019 on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. The conflict in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011. / AFP / Aaref WATAD
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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, parts of which have been under bombardment for more than a month.

The refusal to acknowledge widespread international concern about Idlib was justified late on Monday in a tweet by the Russian Mission to the UN.

“We don’t agree that the situation in the #NorthWest can be viewed separately from [the] situation in other regions,” it read.

The council statement was jointly drafted by Kuwait, Belgium and Germany after 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 terrorists designated by the Security Council”.

The final 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 the 15 members.

Despite the identification of the role of Hayat Tahrir, Russia blocked the UN draft after two days of consideration, siding with the Al 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  [Hayat Tahrir Al Sham,” Russia said, pointing the finger at the statement’s authors and a US-led coalition’s 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 UN council for its apparent inaction over casualties.

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.”

On Monday, bombardments by the Syrian regime killed six civilians in north-west Syria, hours after US President Donald Trump urged Damascus and its allies to “stop bombing the hell” out of the region.

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has continued its support of Mr Al Assad despite being at odds with its counterparts at the UN.

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

The US, Britain and France have called for a ceasefire but as long as Russia backs the Syrian government, the Security 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.