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U.N. unanimously demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria

U.N. unanimously demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria
Members of the U.N. Security Council vote on Feb. 24, 2018, in New York during a meeting on a cease-fire in Syria. (Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images)

The U.N. 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.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock welcomed the vote saying: "Words must now quickly become action — any cessation of hostilities must be real. Attacks must stop."

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The vote was postponed for several days of lengthy and intense negotiations to try to get support from Russia, a key Syrian ally that said repeatedly 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 U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was sharply critical of Russia for delaying the vote.

"How many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shellings?" due to the delay, she asked. "How many more images did we need to see of fathers holding their dead children?"

Sweden, Kuwait and many other countries had been pressing for an immediate cease-fire as deaths mount in a Syrian bombing campaign in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta, where the death toll in a week of bombardment has risen to 500.

Earlier this week U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate suspension of "all war activities" in eastern Ghouta, where he said 400,000 people are living "in hell on earth."

Guterres welcomed the resolution's adoption and stressed his expectation that it will be "immediately implemented and sustained" so aid gets to the needy and sick, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "The U.N. stands ready to do its part."

While the spotlight is on eastern Ghouta, the resolution expresses "grave distress" at the humanitarian situation there as well as throughout the country including Idlib governorate, northern Hama governorate, Rukban and Raqqah.

It states that urgent humanitarian assistance is now required by 13.1 million people in Syria, including 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities in "acute need." That includes 2.9 million in hard-to-reach and besieged locations such as eastern Ghouta.

The resolution calls on all parties to immediately lift the sieges of populated areas including eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Fuah and Kfarya.

On the key issue of a cease-fire, the resolution "demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria for a durable humanitarian pause, to enable the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid and services and medical evacuations of the critically sick and wounded ... and demands that all parties engage to this end."

The resolution also demands that a cease-fire be followed immediately by access for humanitarian aid.

UPDATES:

4:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the cease-fire vote.

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This article was originally published at 1:10 p.m.

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