By Arul Louis,
United Nations : The ten elected non-permanent members (E10) of the UN Security Council pushed the five permanent members (P5) to reach a compromise and got an unanimous vote on a resolution ordering a ceasefire “without delay” in Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach areas under siege.
After two days of delays and several postponements, Russia and the three western permanent members — Britain, France and the United States — agreed on Saturday, on the final version negotiated by Kuwait and Sweden with the backing of the P10.
Kuwait’s Permanent Representative Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, who is the Council President for the month, said after the resolution passed that the unanimous vote was a “sign that the Security Council is united” and this could pave the way for finding a lasting political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Hoping to shame the permanent members locked in a standoff and push them to a compromise, all the the E10 representatives lined up together and held a news conference on Friday while the negotiations were on. “We want to show you the solidarity of the E10,” Al-Otaibi declared: “We are all united, we want the resolution to be adopted.”
The unrelenting push by Al-Otaibi and Sweden’s Permanent Representative Olof Skoog won praise from every one of the Council members. It was a rare instance of the E10 bending the P5, instead of the other way around.
Besides the nation-wide ceasefire, the resolution calls for the lifting of all sieges, facilitation of medical evacuations, and permitting convoys of the UN and its partners carrying humanitarian supplies free access.
However, the resolution made one notable exception to the ceasefire: It allowed continued action against the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, A1-Nusra Front and other terrorist organisations.
The key point of contention that held up the resolution since it was formally introduced by Kuwait and Sweden on Wednesday was the timing of when the ceasefire should start. The US demanded it should be immediate, while Russia wanted lag before it went into effect and the threat of a Moscow veto hung over it.
The resolution now says it will come into force “without delay,” leaving an element of ambiguity subject to interpretations.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Al-Otaibi said they debated about the timing during the negotiations all of Friday and into Saturday morning. “Without delay means” immediately, he said.
Russia’s Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia was non-commital about. He told reporters that the reason his country held out on the wording of the timing was that it was logistical issue and a “painful process on the ground.”
He added that another concern of Moscow was that resolution was not used as a pretext to launch an invasion of Syria.
With the drawn-out negotiations, Syria got three days to prepare for it.
Speaking in the Council after the vote, United States Permanent Representative Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia saying that during the time it held up the resolution to change a “few words and some commas,” mothers lost their children to bombing and shelling.
“The Syrian people should not have to die waiting for Russia to organise their instructions from Moscow, or to discuss it with the Syrians,” she added.
The action on the ceasefire was precipitated situation in East Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called “hell on Earth”. One of the few rebel-held territories, the Damascus suburb has been under a siege and bombed from the air by the Syrian government forces.
East Ghouta was specifically mentioned, along with several other areas, but the Kurdish city of Afrin was not. Intense fighting has been underway in the area between Turkey’s military and Kurdish militias backed by Syrian government forces.
Asked about it by reporters, Al-Otaiby said the ceasefire applied to all of Syria and to all forces operating there.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)