A fresh counteroffensive by Syrian government forces seeking to retake Aleppo has prompted the U.S., Britain, and France to request an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
Following a short-lived ceasefire that began on September 9, violence broke out once again after the bombing of an aid convoy on Monday; government forces launched a new and deadly attack on rebel-held Aleppo on Thursday. The fighting and bombing has already taken more than 200 lives and cut off water for more than 2 million residents.
The 15-member United Nations Security Council met on Sunday to discuss the escalating conflict, with the United States condemning Russia’s backing of government forces.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism,” the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, told the council.
“Instead of pursuing peace, Russiaand Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Britain joined in the condemnation of Russia, with Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the US-Russia track was “very, very near the end of its life and, yes, the Security Council needs to be ready to fulfil our responsibilities”.
“The regime and Russia have instead plunged to new depths and unleashed a new hell on Aleppo,” Rycroft said. “Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.”
For his part, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that “in Syria, hundreds of armed groups are being armed, the territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately, and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now because of this.”
At the meeting, Syria’s U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura urged members to come up with a way to reimplement the broken-down ceasefire. The US and Russia still have a “tiny window of opportunity” to salvage the September 9 truce, said de Mistura. But he noted that the mutual trust needed to end the crisis was “seriously broken”.
“I want to believe, because I am still a naive UN official, that they really meant what they said … and they really wanted it to work,” he added. “I’m asking, indeed urging, both of them to go that extra mile to see if they can save their agreement … and do so at the 11th hour.”
The U.S. and Russia have continued to blame one another for the situation in Syria, with the U.S. and some European countries supporting rebel groups and Russia and Iran backing Assad’s forces.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis has continually worsened. 8 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the war, with 4.5 million fleeing Syria; 250,000 have been killed and 1.5 million injured, and 4.5 million people are living within besieged areas, according to the Red Cross.
As governments and citizens have begun paying more attention to the crisis, attempts to broker ends to the hostilities have increased, but so far have been mostly non-starters. The current fighting in Aleppo was tipped off after the US-led coalition bombed and killed dozens of Syrian soldiers, effectively ending the ceasefire agreement (the US has since called the bombing a mistake).
During the meeting, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he was appalled by the “chilling” upsurge in fighting in Aleppo. He suggested that the use of advanced weaponry in the city could constitute a war crime.
He cited reports of air strikes that utilized incendiary weapons, bunker buster bombs, and other banned weapons during the Syrian army’s recent offensive.
Ban cited reports of air strikes involving the use of incendiary weapons, bunker buster bombs and other powerful munitions in the offensive launched by the Syrian army two days ago to recapture the city.
While both sides seek to deflect blame and hold the other responsible for the situation in Syria, a serious rebuilding of mutual trust will most likely need to take place for any sustainable peace initiative to be implemented. While confidence in a resolution is at an all time low, the increasing pressure from governments, citizens, and humanitarian groups to address the crisis may eventually be the factor that allows the creation of a practicable peace.