What's happening in Syria? After 500 deaths this week, UN demands 30-day cease-fire
World leaders called Thursday for an urgent cease-fire in Syria as government forces pounded the opposition-controlled eastern suburbs of the capital in a crushing campaign that has left hundreds of people dead in recent days.
After more than 500 people were killed this week in Syria’s nearly seven-year civil war, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution for a 30-day cease-fire “without delay” in the war-torn country on Saturday.
There is no set time for the cease-fire to take effect.
What’s happening now?
Airstrikes and shelling on eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus left at least 22 people dead and dozens wounded Saturday.
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the bombings raise the death toll to more than 500 residents, including 190 children and women.
Terrified civilians have been hiding in underground shelters where dozens can fit in tight spaces.
U.N. Security Council demands cease-fire
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.
The sponsors, Kuwait and Sweden, amended the resolution late Friday in a last-minute attempt to get Russian support, dropping a mandate that the cease-fire take effect in 72 hours.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia had said repeatedly that an immediate cease-fire was unrealistic.
The vote was delayed twice on Friday, and the Security Council eventually scheduled a vote for later Saturday.
What is the U.S. saying?
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who did not participate in the cease-fire negotiations, condemned Russia on Friday for “stalling a vote on a ceasefire.” Haley asked in the tweet, “How many more people will die” before a vote. “The Syrian people can’t wait.”
Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria. How many more people will die before the The Security Council agrees to take up this vote? Let’s do this tonight. The Syrian people can’t wait.
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) February 23, 2018
What is Russia saying?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Damascus needed guarantees that residential areas would not continue to be attacked by rebel fighters.
“For the resolution to be effective, and we are ready to negotiate such a text, we put forward a principle that will enable the ceasefire to become real and based on guarantees of all those inside Eastern Ghouta and beyond Eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.
Why did the Syrian civil war start?
The powder keg was lit in March 2011, amid the Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes throughout the Arab World. A group in Syria showing their support were arrested and tortured by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, prompting thousands to protest.
Assad’s forces responded by killing dozens, igniting a full-blown civil war to overthrow the regime. The growing chaos attracted terrorists throughout the region, including remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and an offshoot that became the Islamic State, or ISIS.
By 2014, ISIS militants began seizing large swaths of territory in Syria, including Raqqa as its de facto capital and the oil region Deir ez-Zor, as well as territory in Iraq.
The ongoing conflict has drawn in several other nations, including the United States, Russia and Turkey.
What’s the situation on the ground?
The civil war has killed nearly a half-million people and forced 5 million Syrians to flee, the majority to neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. More than 1 million refugees landed in Europe, contributing to biggest migration crisis since World War II.
According to the United Nations, nearly 3 million Syrian children have lived their entire lives gripped by civil war.
The civil war has destroyed historic cities such as Palmyra, which ISIS blew up in 2015.
Russia is still bombing areas outside Damascus not controlled by the regime. Activists say this is causing scores of civilian deaths and many people are trapped without adequate food or medical care.
The U.S. has accused the Syrian government of using chlorine gas or other chemical weapons on civilians in rebel enclaves.
Contributing: Alan Gomez, Kim Hjelmgaard, Jim Michaels, The Associated Press