UN backs Russian-Turkish Syria efforts as cease-fire wavers

Beirut
1 Jan 2017

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations, as a fragile country-wide cease-fire wavered. The resolution also calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria. And it anticipates a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January. The resolution's final text dropped an endorsement of the Syria cease-fire agreement reached Thursday, simply taking note of it but welcoming and supporting Russian-Turkish efforts to end the violence.

Western members of the council sought the last-minute changes to the draft resolution to clarify the UN's role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara. US deputy ambassador Michele Sison said the Obama administration strongly supports a cease-fire and "unfettered humanitarian access," but she expressed regret that additional documentation to the agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey with details about its implementation have not yet been made public. Meanwhile on the ground in Syria, rebels warned on Saturday that cease-fire violations by pro-government forces threatened to undermine the two-day-old agreement intended to pave the way for talks between the government and the opposition in the new year. Airstrikes pounded opposition-held villages and towns in the strategically-important Barada Valley outside Damascus, activists said, prompting rebels to threaten to withdraw their compliance with a nationwide truce brokered by Russia and Turkey last week.

The airstrikes let up in the late evening, but rebels nevertheless staged retaliatory attacks against government-held areas in other parts of the country, according to the media arm of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the government in Syria. Hezbollah military media reported a barrage of rebel rocket fire on the twin Shiite villages of Foua and Kfraya in northern Syria which have remained loyal to the government in the otherwise rebel-dominated Idlib province. The government's side has rallied thousands of Shiite militia fighters from across the Middle East on the grounds of defending the sect in Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the attacks. It added that pro-government forces had advanced against rebels in the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, in a clear violation of the cease-fire. Rebels also accused the government of signing a different version of the agreement to the one they signed in the Turkish capital of Ankara, further complicating the latest diplomatic efforts to bring an end to six years of war.