Russia Not Ready to Implement Cease-Fire in Syria, Official Says
Pochuyev Mikhail/Zuma Press
Russia said Monday it wasn’t prepared to implement a cease-fire in Syria endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, even as European and U.S. officials demanded an immediate end to the fighting.
In a televised news conference, Foreign Minister
said there would be no quick end to the attacks on Eastern Ghouta near Damascus or in Idlib Province as Moscow supported the Syrian government’s bombing raids there, adding that all sides must first agree on how to implement the cease-fire so it “would be complete and full scale across all of Syria.”
The clash reopened international divisions just two days after the Security Council agreed unanimously on a text for a cease-fire that was prompted by the worsening humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta. The document didn’t fix a date for the suspension of hostilities.
“We can see Russia has failed to follow through on delivering regime compliance,” a U.S. State Department official said. “Russia must see to its commitment to cease pro-regime hostilities—a commitment it not only voted for in the U.N. Security Council but helped to draft. Otherwise, it must admit it’s not capable, or does not want, to play a role in ending the Syrian conflict.”
After meeting earlier with EU foreign ministers, the bloc’s foreign policy chief
late Monday sent a letter to Mr. Lavrov, the Iranian and Turkish foreign ministers, demanding an immediate stop to the fighting. EU governments played a key role in pushing for the weekend’s Syria resolution.
“As combat is still ongoing and since the UNSC Resolution calls for a ceasefire without delay, we call on you, as the three guarantors of the Astana process, take all necessary steps to ensure that the fighting stops, that the Syrian people are protected, and finally that urgent humanitarian access and necessary medical evacuations are taking place,” she wrote in a text seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Cameras worn by Syria’s White Helmet rescuers document the government forces’ attacks on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. Photo: Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE Photo: Mohammed Badra/EPA-EFE
Russia, Iran and Turkey convened the Astana talks, where they proposed a plan for de-escalation zones in Syria, including in Eastern Ghouta, to ease the conflict. The talks, which included the Syrian government and some armed opposition groups, began last year as Moscow looked for new ways to draw down the conflict without committing to Western demands for a transition away from the Assad regime.
On Monday, Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive in addition to its bombing raids on the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb. Opposition activists said the violence killed 10 people, bringing the total number of civilians dead in clashes around the region since last Monday close to 600, according to the Unified Relief Office in Eastern Ghouta, a local group overseeing the humanitarian response.
U.N. Secretary General
urged a quick start to the ceasefire. “Security Council resolutions are only meaningful if implemented,” he wrote on Twitter. “High time to end this hell on earth.”
The nationwide ceasefire, which is meant to last for 30 days, makes an exemption for the fight against Islamic State, Nusra Front and al Qaeda. Russia has extended that exemption to Damascus’ fighting with Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, linking them to Nusra Front.
The ceasefire “in no way affects those actions which the Syrian government is carrying out with the support of the Russian Federation against all terrorist groups… and those who cooperate with them,” Mr. Lavrov said Monday.
In Brussels, Swedish Foreign Minister
said she wasn’t surprised to see continued attacks but called them “unacceptable.”
“Now we have to use all our bilateral and multilateral contacts to put pressure on the different players. We of course want this kind of resolution to be obeyed immediately,” she said.
The EU on Monday imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on two recently appointed Syrian ministers—Information Minister Imad Abdullah Sara and Minister of Industry Mohamed Mazen Ali Yousef—as it has on most top officials in the Assad government.
However, it has so far taken no action over Eastern Ghouta apart from condemning the actions of the Assad regime and its main backers, Russia and Iran.
—Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.