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UN backs Syria ceasefire as death toll in rebel enclave tops 500

United Nations, United States | AFP | The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, as new air strikes on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta took the civilian death toll from seven days of bombing to more than 500.

With support from Russia, the Security Council adopted a resolution on the ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries and medical evacuations, but the measure did not specify when the truce would go into force beyond saying it should be “without delay.”

After the council vote, Syrian warplanes backed by Russian air power launched new raids on a town in Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least 127 children are among the 519 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the rebel enclave, just outside Damascus, the British-based monitor said.

At least 41 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. Russia has denied taking part in the assault.

Quickly following up on the vote, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will speak by phone on Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for the truce to take hold “in the coming days,” the Elysee said in a statement.

– Dragged-out negotiations –

The UN vote was initially expected to be held Thursday, but was repeatedly delayed as diplomats were locked in tough negotiations to avoid a veto from Russia, which is militarily supporting President Bashar Al-Assad.

“Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote, accusing Moscow of stalling.

“As they dragged out the negotiations, the bombs from Assad’s fighter jets continued to fall. In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected accusations of foot-dragging, saying that negotiations were needed to arrive at a demand for a ceasefire that was “feasible.”

“What is necessary is for the demands of the Security Council to be underpinned by concrete on-the-ground agreements,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has described Eastern Ghouta as “hell on Earth,” said the ceasefire must be “immediately” implemented.

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