October 04, 2016 - 5:38 AM
The U.N. Security Council began negotiations Monday on a draft resolution seeking an immediate truce in Aleppo and calling for an end to all military flights over the Syrian city, where over a quarter million people in rebel-held areas are besieged by Syrian forces.
But Russia immediately rejected any grounding of aircraft and questioned whether a resolution at this time would actually produce any results.
The resolution drafted by France and Spain threatens "further measures" — diplomatic code for sanctions — should any party fail to comply with the truce, and it asks for a new U.N.-supervised truce monitor.
"We consider that this is our responsibility to do absolutely everything we can do, everything humanly possible to unite the Security Council behind our efforts to end the martyrdom in Aleppo," France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said before Monday's meeting.
Russia intervened on behalf of its close ally Syria on Sept. 30 last year, joining President Bashar Assad's bombardment of both anti-government rebel groups and militant groups such as the Islamic State and the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida spinoff formerly known as the Nusra Front.
With Russia's backing, Syrian forces have encircled the eastern half of Aleppo where continued attacks have repeatedly damaged medical facilities in violation of international law.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month, defended Russia's military actions in Syria in the wake of bombings of hospitals and an aid convoy, saying Russia never deliberately targeted civilians.
"Had it not been for our involvement in Syria it might well be that the black flags will be flying over Damascus — it could well be," Churkin said, referring to the flag of the Islamic State group.
Churkin said his country had concerns about the French resolution's workability.
Rebel-held eastern Aleppo "has been taken hostage by Nusra and some others who are working with Nusra," he said. "The primary goal of Russia in that part of the world, in Syria and Iraq, is to throw out the terrorists. As long as the terrorists are there, there will be no peace and quiet for the civilians, in eastern Aleppo or anywhere else."
Churkin said Russia is "a little bit baffled" that France called for a new monitoring mechanism for the cease-fire when there is already one in Geneva "which has been there for a long time and frankly has not been used very effectively."
Russia, which is one of five veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council, has blocked a number of resolutions on Syria.
Churkin told a news conference that France said it wants united council support and doesn't want to see a Russian veto.
"If they were sincere, we can have a resolution, I suppose, which would be more balanced," Churkin said, but he said he wasn't sure that many council members would like to see a resolution "that has no chance of working."
Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to demand that Syria and Russia immediately halt attacks in eastern Aleppo and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to the several hundred thousand people trapped there.
"The Security Council should immediately adopt a resolution demanding an end to the slaughter. And Russia, itself involved in the bombing, should refrain from using its veto or risk further sullying its record as a permanent member of the council," Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
This story corrects that Russia's U.N. ambassador said black flags might have flown over Damascus, not Aleppo.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016