UN backs Syria peace efforts by Russia and Turkey

Security Council unanimously endorses moves to end six-year conflict but current ceasefire excluded from statement because of lingering questions from western states.

Members of the UN Security Council vote on supporting Russian-Turkish peace efforts for Syria on December 31, 2016, at the UN headquarters in New York. Kena Betancur / AFP
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United Nations // The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and restart peace negotiations.

The resolution also called for the “rapid, safe and unhindered” delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria, and anticipated a meeting of Syrian government and opposition representatives in Kazakhstan later this month.

Turkey and Russia say the Astana talks will supplement, not replace, UN-backed peace efforts, including talks set for February in Geneva.

The final text dropped an endorsement of the ceasefire deal that came into effect on Friday, as western members of the council sought changes to the draft resolution to clarify the UN’s role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

The ceasefire deal was the third attempt at a truce in 2016, but the first not to involve the United States or the United Nations. As with previous ceasefire agreements, it excludes the extremist groups ISIL and former Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah Al Sham.

The UN resolution came as moderate Syrian rebel groups threatened to abandon the truce because of continuing violations. Although the level of violence dropped since it took effect on Friday, firefights, air strikes and shelling have continued in some areas.

Factions belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of moderate rebel groups, said government forces had been trying to push rebels back in Wadi Barada, north-west of Damascus.

They said the government forces were massing for an attack on the area, which is the primary source of water for the capital and its surrounding region. The government assault has coincided with a severe water shortage in Damascus since December 22. Images from the valley indicate its Ain Al Fijeh spring and water processing facility were destroyed in air strikes. The government says rebels polluted the water source with diesel, forcing it to cut supplies to the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group confirmed clashes in the Barada valley on Saturday, and said there had also been government shelling in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Deraa.

The FSA also accused the government of signing a different version of the truce agreement to the one they signed in the Turkish capital Ankara. It said one of the versions was missing “a number of key and essential points that are non-negotiable”, but did not say what those were.

* Agencies