When they start Frothing at the mouth like this, it is a sure sign that we are winning. Remember that the loudest squealing about Ukraine came right after the Junta’s main force was crushed on the battlefield.– Akira
By Louisa Loveluck and Liz Sly September 25 at 6:18 PM
The United States accused Russia of “barbarism” and war crimes in Syria on Sunday as Moscow’s airstrikes over Aleppo pushed a humanitarian crisis there to new depths.
The nations sparred verbally at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting called to demand that Russia rein in its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and halt the blistering attacks on Syria’s second city.
“Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism.”
A Sept. 9 cease-fire deal guaranteed by the United States and Russia was smashed a week ago by Russian and Syrian airstrikes on a U.N. aid convoy. Despite frantic diplomacy to get that truce back on track, Sunday’s Security Council meeting suggested that divisions between the two sides were deepening.
“Instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin addresses the Security Council. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
But Russia’s representative, Vitaly Churkin, instead blamed his American counterparts for the return to fighting and insisted Assad’s forces had shown “admirable restraint.”
“I just need to explain what working with our American colleagues is like,” he said, telling the 15-member council that Washington had failed to rein in violence by the rebel forces it backs in Syria. “Bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now,” he said.
As the war of words unfolded in New York, Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern neighborhoods were being shaken by the most ferocious aerial attacks there in recent memory. A provisional death toll provided by local nongovernmental organizations suggested at least 85 people had been killed there since early Sunday.
“This is the worst day,” said Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, an English teacher living close to the city’s front line. “The people here are psychologically broken.”
The latest attacks have appeared to target what resources the eastern neighborhoods have left. Branches of at least three rescue teams have been hit by airstrikes, and firetrucks and ambulances have been damaged or destroyed.
Hamdo said Sunday that some rescue teams no longer had enough ambulances to reach families suffocating under the rubble of their homes.
For Assad, Aleppo represents an important prize that would expand government control in the north and deprive opposition groups of one of their last strongholds.
Home to an estimated 275,000 people, east Aleppo’s rebel-held neighborhoods have been under near-continuous siege since government troops encircled the area in mid-July.
Residents say fuel and medical supplies are low, forcing doctors to turn off oxygen machines and operate by the light of their cellphones.
“We’ve never seen anything this bad,” Maher Saqqur, a Syrian neurosurgeon, said Sunday, speaking from a Canadian clinic where he consults with Aleppo doctors via Skype.
“The doctors can do nothing but triage on the floor, and still the bodies keep coming. They don’t even have time to take a sip of water. We’re seeing massacres every hour,” he said.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in east Aleppo over the past week. According to eyewitnesses, the arsenal raining down has included white phosphorus, cluster munitions, barrel bombs and “bunker busters” — munitions so powerful that they can reach the basements where civilians try to shelter from attacks.
U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura described the attacks Sunday as “unprecedented in scale and type.” He said his team had been notified of “fireballs of such intensity that they light up the pitch darkness as if it was daylight.”
His words drew immediate condemnation from Iran — a key force behind the Assad government’s survival — which insisted that pro-Assad forces were not using internationally banned weaponry.
According to Save the Children, half of the casualties being pulled from the rubble or treated in hospitals are children. Saqqur said Sunday that a growing number of his infant patients were being brought to the hospital with the shrapnel of cluster munitions penetrating their brains.
If the Syrian government is intent on taking Aleppo, de Mistura warned Sunday, it will face a “grinding” fight that destroys what is left of the city without any guarantee of victory.
“A so-called military solution is impossible, including in Aleppo,” he said, urging the United States and Russia to go “that extra mile” and save the Sept. 9 cessation of hostilities agreement “at the eleventh hour.”
But as darkness fell on Aleppo and the bombs continued, civilians there voiced deep skepticism over the prospects of an internationally brokered peace. “The best thing the U.N. Security Council can do is stop their talking,” Hamdo said. “It makes no difference here.”
Sly reported from Beirut.
Russia accused of war crimes in Syria at UN security council session
Russia has been directly and repeatedly accused of war crimes at the UN security council in an unusually blunt session, as hopes of any form of ceasefire were flattened by the scale and ferocity of the Syrian regime’s assault on eastern Aleppo.
The war crimes accusations centred on the widespread use of bunker-busting and incendiary bombs on the 275,000 civilians living in the rebel-held east of the city, weapons that Moscow’s accusers say were dropped by Russian aircraft.
“Bunker-busting bombs, more suited to destroying military installations, are now destroying homes, decimating bomb shelters, crippling, maiming, killing dozens, if not hundreds,” Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN said during the emergency security council session on Syria on Sunday.
“Incendiary munitions, indiscriminate in their reach, are being dropped on to civilian areas so that, yet again, Aleppo is burning. And to cap it all, water supplies, so vital to millions, are now being targeted, depriving water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.”
Rycroft later walked out of the chamber with his US and French counterparts before the Syrian government representative began speaking, in protest at the regime’s bombing campaign.
Earlier in the day, the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said: “Putin’s regime is not just handing Assad the revolver; he is in some instances firing the revolver. The Russians themselves are actually engaged.”
Save the Children quoted doctors in Aleppo on Sunday as saying that about half the casualties in the city were children.
At the security council meeting, Rycroft’s French counterpart, François Delattre, agreed the use of bunker-busters and incendiaries on urban residential areas was a war crime.
“They must not be unpunished,” he said. “Impunity is simply not an option in Syria.”
“Aleppo is to Syria what Sarajevo was to Bosnia, or what Guernica was to the Spanish war,” the French envoy said. “this week will go down in history as the one in which diplomacy failed and barbarism triumphed”.
The US ambassador, Samantha Power, highlighted the targeting of three out of four centres in eastern Aleppo used by the volunteer emergency services – the White Helmets – with the consequence that lifesaving equipment had been destroyed and “those buried in rubble in Aleppo are much more likely to die in the rubble”.
She said while Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had been talking about restoring peace in Syria at council meetings last week, incendiary bombs were being loaded on to Russian planes in preparation for the new offensive.
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism,” Power said, urging other national representatives to speak out. “History will not look kindly on security council members who stay silent in the face of this carnage,” she said, adding that it was also not the time to use the passive voice and observe that Aleppo was being bombed. It was time, she said, to say who was doing the bombing.
In response, the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the breakdown of a week-long, US-Russia-brokered ceasefire on rebels, including the “moderate opposition” backed by the west. Extremist groups in eastern Aleppo were holding its population hostage, Churkin claimed, stopping them from leaving and using them as human shields.
He praised the Assad regime in Damascus for its “admirable restraint”, claiming it was in fact Syrian government forces that were surrounded and were only firing on eastern Aleppo when they had been fired upon. “The Syrian regime only uses air power to get terrorists out of the city with minimal civilian casualties,” Churkin said, as he dismissed reports of mass killing in eastern Aleppo as fake, using footage from government-held western Aleppo.
The UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the ceasefire had significantly reduced the level of fighting, allowing Aleppo residents to “come out of their shelters and houses to celebrate Eid on the streets”.
He said: “People started to become cautiously optimistic,” but added the ceasefire was broken by bombing a day before the end of its first week “when five districts were hit reportedly with five severe airstrikes” following the Syrian government’s unilateral declaration of an end to the truce.
“Since that fateful day, we have seen the situation in eastern Aleppo deteriorate to new heights of horror,” de Mistura said. He said the airstrikes were reported to have killed 213 people in Aleppo province, 139 of them in eastern Aleppo.
De Mistura said: “We heard the word ‘unprecedented’ – in quantity and also in scale and type – in [descriptions of] the types of bombing. We have seen reports, videos and pictures of reported use of incendiary bombs that create fireballs of such intensity that they light up the pitch darkness in eastern Aleppo, as though it was actually daylight. We now hear of bunker-busting bombs being used and see pictures of large craters in the earth much larger than in previous aerial bombings.
“If it is confirmed, the systematic indiscriminate use of such weapons in areas where civilians and civilian infrastructure are present may amount to war crimes.”
De Mistura said he had been asked why, in the face of such an onslaught and failure of diplomacy, he did not resign. He said he would not do so “because any sign of me resigning would be a signal that the international community is abandoning the Syrians, and we will not abandon the Syrians, and neither will you”.
Tom Fletcher, the UK’s former ambassador to Lebanon, said the change in tone used at the security council on Sunday marked a new phase in the west’s response to the conflict, jettisoning residual hopes of making a deal with Russia.
“Normally diplomatic language is cautious: even the Syria contact group’s statement yesterday only spoke of patience with Russia being ‘not unlimited’. But today’s statements in the security council from France, the US and UK are more raw, and more angry. They show that the recent policy – admittedly more in hope than expectation – of trusting Russia to restrain Assad is now buried in the rubble of Aleppo. This signals a new phase. Assad has calculated that US elections give him a free hand to massacre. We will now see whether or not he has underestimated US readiness to protect the most vulnerable.”