UN unanimously demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria

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Smoke billows following a regime air strike on the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, late on February 23, 2018. (AFP)
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Members of the UN Security Council vote for ceasefire to Syrian bombing in eastern Ghouta, at the UN headquarters in New York, US, on Feb. 24, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 25 February 2018

UN unanimously demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria

BEIRUT/UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. Security Council on Saturday demanded a 30-day truce across Syria as rescuers in the country's eastern Ghouta region said bombing would not let up long enough for them to count bodies during one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.
Shortly after the unanimous vote by the 15-member council, warplanes struck a town in eastern Ghouta, the last rebel enclave near Syria's capital, an emergency service and a war monitoring group said. Warplanes have pounded the region for seven straight days while residents holed up in basements.
U.N. chief Antonio Guterres appealed on Wednesday for an immediate end to "war activities" in eastern Ghouta, where nearly 400,000 people have lived under government siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.
While Syrian ally Russia supported the adoption of the U.N. resolution, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia cast doubt on its feasibility. Previous ceasefire deals on the ground have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's military has gained the upper hand.
"What is necessary is for the demands of the Security Council to be underpinned by concrete on the ground agreements," Nebenzia told the council after the vote.
After several days of delay and last-minute negotiations to win the support of Russia, the council adopted the resolution - drafted by Sweden and Kuwait - demanding hostilities cease for 30-days "without delay" to allow aid access and medical evacuations.
Russia did not want to specify when a truce would start, so a proposal for the truce to begin 72 hours after adoption was watered-down to demand it start "without delay." Further talks on Saturday added a demand for all parties to "engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation."
"As they dragged out the negotiation, 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 shelling?" U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council.
"We are deeply skeptical that the (Syrian) regime will comply," Haley said.

COMBATING TERRORISM
A surge of rocket fire, shelling and air strikes has killed more than 500 people since Sunday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included more than 120 children.
The monitor said raids hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns there on Saturday, killing 40 people.
Wael Olwan, spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, one of two dominant rebel factions in Ghouta, said: "We assert our full and serious commitment to a comprehensive ceasefire and to facilitating the entry of all U.N. aid into eastern Ghouta ... with our legitimate right to self-defence and to respond to any assault."
Medical charities have decried attacks on a dozen hospitals. The Syrian government and Russia say they only target militants. Moscow and Damascus have said they seek to stop mortar attacks injuring dozens in the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
"We're combating terrorism on our territories," Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told the Security Council. "Our government will reserve the right to respond as it deems appropriate in case those terrorist arms groups are targeting civilians in any part of Syria with even one single missile."
Ja'afari said his government interpreted the resolution as also applying to "Turkish forces in Afrin, and the operations of the anti-ISIL (Islamic State) coalition in Syria ... Israeli forces in Syria, especially the occupied Syrian Golan."
The truce demanded by the Security Council does not cover militants from Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.
First responders searched for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma and Harasta, the Civil Defence in eastern Ghouta said. The rescue service, which operates in rebel territory, said it had documented at least 350 deaths in four days earlier this week.
"Maybe there are many more," said Siraj Mahmoud, a civil defence spokesman in the suburbs. "We weren't able to count the martyrs yesterday because the warplanes are touring the skies."

'BURIED UNDER HOUSES'
As the bombs rain down, some hitting emergency centers and vehicles, workers have struggled to pull people from the rubble, Mahmoud said. "But if we have to go out running on our legs and dig with our hands to rescue the people, we will still be here."
A witness in Douma said he woke up in the early hours on Saturday to the sound of a squadron of jets bombing nearby. The streets have mostly remained empty.
The local opposition council said it was setting up emergency volunteer teams in several districts to reinforce shelters with sandbags and try to link them through tunnels.
"Every day we say God willing tomorrow will be better ... Today, the main sight in the Ghouta is limbs, blood," Mahmoud said. "There is no need to dig graves, we will be buried under our houses."
Several previous ceasefire attempts have quickly unraveled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and forced 11 million people out of their homes.
Syrian state media said Ghouta factions fired mortars at districts of Damascus on Saturday, including near a school. Insurgent shelling wounded six people, it said, and the army heavily pounded militant targets in the suburbs in response.
The Ghouta pocket has become the war's latest flashpoint, after a string of rebel defeats and negotiated withdrawals. With Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, Assad's military has restored state rule over the main cities across western Syria.
Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out the kind of evacuation that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after bitter sieges.
Russia has blamed Nusra fighters, from al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, for provoking the situation in Ghouta. The two main Islamist factions there in turn accuse their enemies of using the presence of a few hundred jihadist fighters as a pretext for attacks.
 


Powerful quake hits eastern Turkey, four dead

Updated 5 min 34 sec ago

Powerful quake hits eastern Turkey, four dead

  • Rescue teams were being sent to the scene of the quake, which had its epicenter in the small lakeside town of Sivrice
  • The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders

ISTANBUL: A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit eastern Turkey on Friday, killing at least four people, causing buildings to collapse and sending panicked residents rushing into the street.
Rescue teams were being sent to the scene of the quake, which had its epicenter in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.
“It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside,” 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.
“We will spend the coming days in a farmhouse outside the city,” she said.
The Turkish government’s disaster and emergency management agency said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 p.m. (1755 GMT).
The US Geological Survey assessed its magnitude at 6.7, and said it had a depth of 10 kilometers (about six miles).
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said four people had died, two in Elazig province and two in the neighboring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.
“We are hoping we will not have more casualties,” he was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.
Turkish television showed images of people stuck in apartments rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of one building.
“Sivrice was shaken very seriously, we have directed our rescue teams to the region,” Soylu, who is due to go to the affected area, told reporters.
Sivrice — a town with a population of about 4,000 population — is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake — one of the most popular tourist spots in the region.
The lake is home to a “Sunken City,” with archaeologists finding archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.
The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighboring cities had mobilized rescue teams for the quake area.
“We have sent four teams to the quake region,” Recep Salci of Turkey’s Search and Rescue Association (AKUT) told AFP.
“We have news of collapsed buildings, and are preparing more teams in case of need.”
Zekeriya Gunes, 68, a resident of Elazig city, said a building 200 meters down on his street had collapsed but he did not know whether it was inhabited.
“Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary,” he said.
Ferda, 39, said she felt worried and desperate.
“It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds,” she told AFP. “I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside.”
Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to earthquakes.
In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country’s largest city Istanbul.
In September, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.