US proposes new Ghouta ceasefire at UN and signals readiness to act on its own
The United States has proposed a new binding resolution imposing an immediate 30-day ceasefire in the besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta, adding that if the UN security council fails to agree, Washington is prepared to act unilaterally – as it did when it fired missiles at a Syrian government air base last year.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the security council in New York: “It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again.”
“When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action,” she said on Monday.
Following repeated violations by the Syrian regime of the previous ceasefire resolution, passed a fortnight ago, Haley warned trust was what made work at the UN possible and if that was not achievable, nothing else could be achieved.
She said if the UN could not save the lives of children who have been sheltering in basements, then “the UN is as impotent as its worst critics suggest”.
Haley said the new resolution provided for a 30-day ceasefire, unimpeded humanitarian access, and provision for voluntary medical evacuations.
The new text does not have any loopholes permitting attacks on terrorist groups in eastern Damascus.
She did not spell out when she would put her new draft text to a vote, nor how quickly the US would take unilateral action if Russia vetoed the resolution. But the scale of the onslaught suggests the US intends to make decisions this week.
The UK representative at the UN, John Allen, strongly backed the US stance, saying Russia had done next to nothing to implement the terms of the previous UN resolution implementing a previous 30-hour ceasefire.
He asked if there had been a single civilian evacuation since the ceasefire and answered: “Not a single one. Again, it is the regime who will not permit their civilians to reach urgently needed medical care. In 17 days only one convoy had been allowed to enter eastern Ghouta.”
After voting for a ceasefire, Russian military aircraft had mounted 20 raids in Ghouta and Damascus between 24 and 28 February, he added.
Russia says it is targeting specific jihadist groups that were excluded from the ceasefire by the previous resolution, adding that it has offered to evacuate civilians.
But the number of jihadists in the town are nowhere near the number required to justify the scale of the Syrian bombardment, let alone the alleged use of chemical weapons in civilians. More than 1,000 people have died since mid-February.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said: “Syria is bleeding inside and out. There should be only one agenda for all of us – to end the suffering of the Syrian people and find a political solution to the conflict.”
The warnings at the UN came as the Emmanuel Macron said France was prepared to use military force to maintain red lines preventing the use of chemical weapons. The French president said France would be ready to strike if it found “irrefutable evidence” chemical weapons had been used to kill.
He was responding to criticism by his predecessor, François Hollande, who in a rare intervention called for the use of no-fly zones to protect civilians.
Macron said “The day we have ... irrefutable proof that the red line was crossed – namely the chemical weapons were used to lethal effect – we will do what the Americans themselves did moreover a few months ago; we would put ourselves in position to proceed with targeted strikes.”