UN Security Council unanimously backs 30-day cease-fire across Syria

Resolution calls for delivering aid to besieged areas ‘without delay,’ evacuating wounded; measure’s language changed to win Russian backing

A Civil Defense volunteer, known as the White Helmets, checks the site of a regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Saqba, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abdulmonam Essa)
A Civil Defense volunteer, known as the White Helmets, checks the site of a regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Saqba, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abdulmonam Essa)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria “without delay” to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The vote was delayed for two days to try to get support from Russia, which said repeatedly that an immediate cease-fire was unrealistic.

Sponsors Kuwait and Sweden amended the resolution late Friday in a last-minute attempt to satisfy Russia, dropping a demand that the cease-fire take effect in 72 hours.

The effort worked, though US Ambassador Nikki Haley was sharply critical of Russia for delaying the vote, saying it cost lives.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks as Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya listens after a Security Council vote during a United Nations Security Council meeting on a ceasefire in Syria, on February 24, 2018 in New York.(AFP Photo/Don Emmert)

There is no set time for the cease-fire to take effect, but the resolution demands that it be followed immediately by access for humanitarian convoys and medical teams to evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The resolution states that 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities are in “acute need,” including 2.9 million in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog told the council just before the vote that “the UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go.”

Sweden, Kuwait and many other countries have been pressing for immediate UN action as deaths mount in a Syrian bombing campaign in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta.

The resolution calls for all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas including eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya.

The Security Council authorized one exemption from the cease-fire.

It said attacks directed at extremists from the Islamic State group and all al-Qaida affiliates including the Nusra Front will be allowed to continue.

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