The United Nations Security Council will vote Monday on a proposed ceasefire in the Syrian city of Aleppo to allow desperately needed aid into the war-ravaged zone, but Russia has indicated it will likely veto the resolution.
The vote comes as the Syrian regime continues to blitz Aleppo’s east in support of its troops there, as part of an operation to seize control of the area held by rebels for more than four years.
Dozens have been killed daily in the strikes and crossfire between regime forces and rebels since forces entered the area on November 26, activist groups say.
While the regime has made sweeping territorial gains in eastern Aleppo, rebel forces fought back Monday in the al-Mayassar neighborhood. Rebels also hit a Russian mobile hospital in Aleppo, killing one medic and injuring two doctors, Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency reported, quoting a defense ministry spokesman.
A government siege on eastern Aleppo is now tighter than ever, and food stocks, clean water supplies and medicine are running dry. The UN has repeated calls for safe passage, but it says the Syrian government and its most powerful ally, Russia, have failed to guarantee this for its humanitarian staff.
Russia has begun sending in aid and setting up mobile clinics, after all the hospitals in eastern Aleppo were bombed beyond use. Russia has been widely blamed for the destruction of medical facilities — it has supported Syrian government troops with an aerial bombardment campaign.
A draft resolution put forward by Spain, New Zealand and Egypt proposes a week-long ceasefire that could be extended by further seven-day periods. It also demands that all parties in the conflict allow immediate and safe humanitarian access to all of Aleppo by the UN and its partners.
It does not include groups the council categorizes as terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front.
Russia, the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to quash five resolutions on the Syrian conflict since the war broke out in 2011 following the Arab Spring uprising. China has vetoed four of those five.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the ceasefire resolution would undermine ongoing talks between Moscow and Washington on Aleppo and would therefore be “counterproductive.”
The US and Russia announced Saturday they were working together on an agreement to have all rebel groups expelled from eastern Aleppo and to ensure safe delivery of aid there by humanitarian staff. The US had armed groups there it considered “moderate,” while Russia targeted the same groups with airstrikes to prop up the Assad regime.
Lavrov, speaking at a news conference in Moscow on Monday, argued that a ceasefire would also give rebels the chance to regroup and strengthen.
He said that Moscow and Washington planned talks on the routes and timings of the withdrawal of rebels.
“Once they’re set, a ceasefire regime will come into force to start the evacuation of these armed groups. If US-Russian cooperation on this will bring results — and we have all reasons to believe it will do so — then the problem of eastern Aleppo will be effectively solved,” he said, adding it would allow “smooth humanitarian aid delivery” and normalize life there.
The 15-member Security Council has faced widespread criticism over its failure to find a political solution to the Syrian war that has raged for more than five years and left an estimated 400,000 people dead. Even agreeing on terms to allow an occasional aid delivery often takes weeks, even months, at a time.
Regime takes 60% of eastern Aleppo
Twenty-four people were killed and more than 85 wounded in eastern Aleppo on Sunday in airstrikes and shelling, according to the Aleppo Media Center activist group.
Separately, in the nearby province of Idlib, another 67 people were killed and 80 injured Sunday in airstrikes that targeted residential areas, marketplaces and schools, according to the self-styled Syrian Civil Defence rescue group, also known as the White Helmets.
The regime now holds some 60% of eastern Aleppo, making swift gains since breaking through rebel defense lines.
Hundreds have died since regime forces entered eastern Aleppo, according to activist groups, while around 30,000 civilians have now fled, some of them reviling the rebels who they say wouldn’t let them leave, and others condemning the regime for the decimation of their homes and the high human toll from the airstrikes.
‘We will rebuild’
Regime forces captured the entire northeast in the first few days, including its largest district, Masaken Hanano, where civilians are starting to return.
Khaled Chobello is one of those residents, coming back for the first time since he fled in 2012, when rebels took over eastern Aleppo.
Masaken Hanano has been largely reduced to rubble, and Chobello’s apartment is now a chaotic mess, with holes through the walls and his possessions thrown into a heap.
“I’m very sad because everything is either destroyed or ransacked,” he told CNN.
One of the few possessions of value found under the rubble was a photograph of his family.
“The walls are destroyed, but we will come back here and rebuild.”