The US and Russian ambassadors at the UN engaged in a heated exchange over chemical weapons, attacks and aid in Syria. Russia claimed Turkey and Iran were working to ensure compliance with a ceasefire.

USA Vereinte Nationen zur Lage in Syrien Stephen O'Brien (picture-alliance/Zumapress/A. Lohr-Jones)

US ambassador Nikki Haley forcefully attacked Russia’s role in Syria, accusing Moscow forces of providing cover for the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and denying desperately needed aid to hundreds of thousands of beseiged people.

“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to,” Haley said at the monthly Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria on Thursday.

USA Vereinte Nationen zur Lage in Syrien Nikki Haley (picture-alliance/Zumapress/A. Lohr-Jones)US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley

She urged council members not to continue “to give Russia a pass for allowing this terrible situation to occur.” The US ambassador urged other UN Security powers to pressure Russia into persuading its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and “deliver real peace talks.”

Haley referred to eight resolutions blocked by Moscow to shield Assad’s government and Russia “cover for a leader who uses chemical weapons against his own people.”

Russian response

USA Vereinte Nationen Peter Iliichev (Getty Images/AFP/K. Betancur)Russian Deputy Ambassador Peter Illiichev

Petr Iliichev, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador asserted that Russia, Iran and Turkey were working to ensure that Syria’s factions upheld a December 30 ceasefire. He demanded that Syria’s many opposition groups “meet us halfway.”

“The ongoing criticism of the Syrian government and the emotional calls to the country guarantors (of the cease-fire) including Russia don’t help anything,” Iliichev said.

The Russian envoy said earlier that, on the whole, the December ceasefire was holding, although there were movements of “terrorists and armed groups” and incidents undermining it that were affecting the delivery of aid.

Humanitarian situation deteriorating

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien decried “starve and surrender” tactics being used primarily by al-Assad’s government on besieged areas with 620,000 people affected.

Syrien Douma UN Hilfskonvoi Roter Halbmond (Reuters/B.Khabieh )UN aid convoy in October 2016

An already bad situation was deteriorating O’Brien said. Not a single convoy had reached a besieged area during April “due to a lack of authorizations,” the UN official said. O’Brien said that “children have fared the worst,” as the conflict in Syria enters its sixth year. They were “suffering physical and psychological trauma,” he said.

Syria accuses Israel

The exchanges in New York took place hours after Syria accused Israel of striking a military installation near Damascus International Airport.

Israel subsequently said one of its Patriot missiles had struck an incoming drone from Syria over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel has in the past maintained it has the right to prevent weapons being transferred to Hezbollah, a Syrian-allied Lebanese force.

Air strikes in Idlib province

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said airstrikes across the opposition-held Idlib province on Thursday had claimed at least 19 lives.

A Syrian group, Civil Defense, said those killed included four medical staff of a university hospital in Deir Sharqi.

ipj/jm (AP, Reuters)

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