UNITED NATIONS — Diplomats placed blame for the escalating military and worsening humanitarian situations in Syria on inaction in the UN Security Council on Wednesday, with the U.S. ambassador calling Russia a liar and her counterpart saying the United States and other Western powers are engaging in “cynical sanctimony.”
The exchange in an open meeting of the 15-member body came on the heels of yet another sobering report by the UN’s humanitarian agency chief that found the intensifying attack on eastern Aleppo — waged for the past several weeks by Russian and Syrian government forces to extract rebels — threatens to make Syria’s largest city “one giant graveyard” with no end in sight.
“Aleppo has become the apex of what has become a catalog of horrors in Syria,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, speaking to the diplomats in Manhattan through video link from London. “Its people have been living in a long, terrifying nightmare reality which no human being should have to endure.”
He said at the emergency meeting, called by Britain and France, that as many as 25,000 people — 60 to 70 percent of whom are women and children — had been displaced from rebel-held districts in eastern Aleppo since Saturday alone.
Staffan de Mistura, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy to the conflict, said through video link from Geneva that conditions on location are desperate and getting worse as ground and air assaults continue apace after Syria and Russia escalated bombardment two weeks ago. The campaign has been criticized by human rights groups as so destructive that it constitutes war crimes, because many civilians have been killed in the assault that has leveled schools and hospitals.
“There are no more working hospitals in eastern Aleppo, where more than 100,000 children are trapped under siege and heavy bombardment, with dwindling access to food and medicine,” said Geert Cappelaere, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports that 676 civilians have been killed by Russian and Syrian armaments, 165 children and 87 women, in eastern Aleppo from Sept. 19 through Nov. 30.
“It is likely that thousands more will flee should fighting continue to spread and further intensify over the coming days,” O’Brien said.
Both UN officials urged the Security Council to resolve the deadlock within its ranks that has for years prevented concerted action from the world body charged with maintaining peace and security. China and Russia, in particular, have used their veto power to block resolutions aimed at ending the conflict, usually on the grounds that the measures also entail removing from power Russia’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A more recent cease-fire measure proposed by Russia in October failed to garner the required nine votes to pass.
The war in Syria began in March 2011, a byproduct of the Arab Spring, a pro-reform movement that swept across the Middle East and toppled several strongmen, including leaders in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. In Syria, though, calls for reform resulted in clashes between the government and demonstrators, leading to a protracted civil war that has also drawn in thousands of foreign fighters linked to terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida that seek Bashar’s overthrow.
It has also drawn in Iran and its armed militia, Hezbollah, to Assad’s side.
“Syria and Russia, as they lie and as they kill civilians in Syria, count on there being no referee; no referee who will adjudicate facts — truth — on the one hand, from lies and falsehoods and fiction on the other,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. “That is their gamble. But we have referees. The UN briefers we just heard from are our referees. They have no interest in doing anything other than calling it as it is. . . . The carnage is a fact, it is a truth and it is now.”
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said blame for the conflict must also be shared by the United States and Britain for spearheading the war in Iraq in 2003 that, he said, produced instability in the Middle East region and led to the current conflict in Syria as well as other countries.
“The failure of their geopolitical escapades some sought to hide through cynical sanctimony,” Churkin said. “We often face this, come up against this, when discussing the subject of Syria in the Security Council. Today’s meeting was no exception.”