UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto
NEW YORK CITY - UN diplomats pressed on Thursday with tough negotiations on a UN draft resolution demanding a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria, hoping to avoid a Russian veto at the Security Council.
Sweden and Kuwait on Wednesday requested a vote on the measure, but by late morning Thursday, there was no decision to schedule the vote.
The council will meet at 12:00 pm (1700 GMT) at Russia's request to discuss the crisis in Eastern Ghouta as the death toll from a fierce air campaign waged by Syrian government forces rose to 368.
"There has to be a decision very, very soon. People are dying," said Sweden's Ambassador Olof Skoog.
"Eastern Ghouta is under a barrage of fire. Children, civilians, are dying by the hundreds as we speak," French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters, calling for urgent action.
High-level exchanges were taking place between capitals on the draft resolution that would demand a truce to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations, diplomats said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that Moscow could back the measure if it did not apply to rebel groups who are shelling Damascus.
In a concession to Russia, the draft was amended last week to specify that the ceasefire does not apply to the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda, but Lavrov appeared to put forward new demands.
"The resolution that is on the table, we are ready to look at it, but we have offered very precise phrasing that would say that the ceasefire would under no circumstances extend to ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra and those groups cooperating with them and systemically attacking the residential neighborhoods of Damascus," Lavrov said.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday called for "immediate action" on the ceasefire and rejected Russia's demands, saying it was "simply preposterous to claim that these attacks on civilians have anything to do with fighting terrorism."
The draft resolution would pave the way for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.
Outside UN headquarters in New York, a coalition of aid groups put up three billboards, inspired by the film "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" that said "500,000 dead in Syria. And still no action? How come Security Council?.