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World & Nation

United Nations backs Russian-Turkish peace efforts in Syria as truce falters

U.N. Security Council vote on Syria
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin votes Dec. 31 on a Syria cease-fire at United Nations headquarters in New York.
(Eurpean Pressphoto Agency)

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Saturday supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations, as a fragile country-wide cease-fire wavered. 

The resolution also calls for the “rapid, safe and unhindered” delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria. And it anticipates a meeting of Syrian government and opposition representatives in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, in late January. 

The resolution’s final text dropped an endorsement of the Syria cease-fire agreement reached Thursday, simply taking note of it but welcoming and supporting Russian-Turkish efforts to end the violence. Western members of the council sought the last-minute changes to clarify the U.N.’s role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara. 

U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison said the Obama administration strongly supports a cease-fire and “unfettered humanitarian access,” but she expressed regret that additional documentation to the agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey with details about its implementation has not yet been made public. 

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In Syria, meanwhile, rebels warned that cease-fire violations by pro-government forces threatened to undermine the two-day-old agreement intended to pave the way for talks between the government and the opposition in the new year. 

Airstrikes pounded opposition-held villages and towns in the strategically important Barada Valley outside Damascus, activists said, prompting rebels to threaten to withdraw their compliance with the nationwide truce brokered by Russia and Turkey last week. 

The airstrikes let up in the late evening. But rebels staged retaliatory attacks against government-held areas in other parts of the country, according to the media arm of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the government in Syria. 

Hezbollah military media reported a barrage of rebel rocket fire on the twin Shiite villages of Foua and Kfraya in northern Syria, which have remained loyal to the government in the otherwise rebel-dominated Idlib province.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the attacks. It added that pro-government forces had advanced against rebels in the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, in violation of the cease-fire. 

Rebels also accused the government of signing a different version of the agreement to the one they signed in the Turkish capital of Ankara, further complicating the latest diplomatic efforts to bring an end the war. 

Nearly 50,000 people died in the conflict in 2016, according to the Observatory, which maintains networks of contacts on all sides of the war. Various estimates have put the war’s overall toll at around 400,000 dead. 

If the truce holds, the government and the opposition will be expected to meet for talks for the first time in nearly a year in Astana in the second half of January. Those talks will be mediated by Russia, Turkey and Iran, though Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, has said other key players, including the United States, are welcome to participate. 

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UPDATES:

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with details of the vote and fighting in Syria.

This article was originally published at 10:40 a.m.


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