BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Russia has vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution that would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in a town in northern Syria and demanded a speedy investigation.
Wednesday’s vote on the resolution drafted by Britain, France and the United States was 10 in favor, Russia and Bolivia against, and China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstaining.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council before the vote that during talks earlier Wednesday in Moscow Russia asked for an independent international investigation to examine the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 90 people. He said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering the request.
The final draft resolution included a paragraph that the Russians objected to last week stressing Syria’s requirement to provide investigators with flight plans and information about air operations on April 4 when Khan Sheikhoun was attacked, names of helicopter squadron commanders, and immediate access to air bases where they believe an attack may have been launched.
Residents of the besieged Syrian towns of Madaya and Zabadani say their evacuation has been postponed until Thursday.
Muhammad Darwish, a doctor in Madaya, says the he has been told by authorities he will have to wait another day to leave the town where he has been trapped for two years.
Amer Burhan, a hospital administrator at the nearby town of Zabadani, confirmed the delay.
Pro-government forces have kept the two towns under tight siege since 2015, while rebels have kept two pro-government towns in northern Syria under a reciprocal siege. An agreement between the two sides was supposed to see residents begin to evacuate the towns on Wednesday, to ultimately lift the sieges. There are some 200 buses lined up at staging areas to move more than 10,000 people out of the four towns to safety, according to Syrian media.
Future evacuations will see some 30,000 people moved around the country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says the population transfers have been postponed because of “technical delays.” The Observatory has decried the arrangement as “demographic engineering.”
Earlier in the day, rebel gunmen fired on the buses waiting to enter the two pro-government towns in Idlib province, Syrian media reported.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador says the U.S. “provocation” by attacking a Syrian air base will only encourage those who want a military solution to the six-year Syrian conflict.
Vladimir Safronkov told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun needs to be investigated and he asked how French experts determined who was responsible when nobody has visited the area.
He also accused Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of being far more interested in regime change in Syria than in seeking to bring peace to the country.
Safronkov gave strong backing to efforts by U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura to get the Syrian government and opposition to discuss key political issues in Geneva.
He stressed that a political settlement “is the only way to return Syria to peace and reduce tensions in the Middle East.”
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley is warning that the United States will not allow any further use of chemical weapons “to go unanswered.”
She told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday: “We are not going to look the other way. We are watching the regime’s actions carefully.”
Haley also warned Russia that it is isolating itself “every time one of (President Bashar) Assad’s planes drops another barrel bomb on civilians, and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death.”
“It is long past time for Russia to stop covering for Assad … and to push for peace,” she said.
“We can start by working together to de-escalate the conflict,” Haley said.
For Russia, she said, “getting serious about peace starts by fulfilling its commitment to get chemical weapons out of Syria.”
Haley also urged the council to take action against Iran, calling the country “Assad’s chief accomplice.”
“Iran is dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so it can expand its own reach,” she said.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria is warning that the fragile peace process is “in grave danger” and is urging the United States, Russia and other key players to work for a real cease-fire and negotiations to end the six-year conflict.
Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that he is ready to hold a new round of talks between the government and opposition in May but some things should be sorted out first.
He said the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group comprising about 20 countries with interests on both sides of the conflict, “must find a way to work together, to stabilize the situation … in support of the political process.”
De Mistura said Russia, Iran and Turkey, as guarantors of a December cease-fire that has been repeatedly broken, must also “step up and deliver now.”
“Let us use this moment of crisis — and it is a moment of crisis — as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution,” he said.
A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow is opposing the latest version of a Western draft UN Security Council resolution on a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency Wednesday that the draft submitted by the U.S., Britain and France is “unacceptable to us in its current form.”
He added that “we will vote against it if our partners do not heed our calls and promote this draft artificially with the sole purpose of making the Russian Federation veto it again.”
The U.S. and its allies have held the Syrian government responsible for the chemical attack in northern Syria that killed more than 80. Russia has insisted that the victims were killed by toxic agents from a rebel chemical arsenal hit by Syrian warplanes.
The U.N. Security Council has scheduled a vote Wednesday afternoon on a Western-drafted resolution that would condemn the reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria and demand that all parties provide speedy access for investigators.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called on all 15 members to support the resolution drafted by the U.K., France and the United States saying “every country that really wants the truth will vote in favor of the resolution.”
But the final draft includes a paragraph that the Russians objected to last week stressing Syria’s requirement to provide investigators with flight plans and information about air operations on April 4 when Khan Sheikhoun was attacked, names of helicopter squadron commanders, and immediate access to air bases where they believe an attack may have been launched.
Rycroft said Russia has a choice of sticking with “the toxic Assad regime that poisons its own people” or seeking peace through negotiations and a political transition.
The Security Council is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. EDT to vote.
10: 45 a.m.
A Syrian official and an opposition monitoring group say the government and rebels have exchanged 30 prisoners and nine bodies, part of an agreement to evacuate four besieged areas in different parts of the country.
Hakim Baghdad, a member of the relief committee for two rebel-besieged villages in northwestern Syria, said Wednesday the overnight release was overseen by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The Red Crescent had no immediate comment.
Military-run media said rebels released eight women, four children and eight bodies. Pro-government militias freed 19 gunmen and released one body.
The exchange came as part of a deal to evacuate over 10,000 residents from two opposition-held areas near Damascus and the two villages in northern Syria, an agreement that critics say amounts to forced displacement.
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