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U.N. Security Council to vote Thursday on call for Idlib truce, Russia likely to oppose -diplomats

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By Reuters
U.N. Security Council to vote Thursday on call for Idlib truce, Russia likely to oppose -diplomats
FILE PHOTO: A Syrian army soldier smokes cigarette as he sits on a military vehicle in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo   -   Copyright  Omar Sanadiki(Reuters)

By Michelle Nichols

UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on Thursday on a draft resolution calling for a truce in northwest Syria, though diplomats said the measure is likely to be opposed by veto-power Russia.

Syria’s northwest corner, including the Idlib region, is the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war. In that time Russia has vetoed a dozen draft Security Council resolutions to protect its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Experts from the council’s 15 members have met three times to negotiate on the latest text drafted by Kuwait, Germany and Belgium last month. A resolution needs nine votes and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.

Russia’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the draft resolution.

Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air power, have been waging a five month long offensive in the Idlib region. Much of the region is controlled by militants linked to the former Nusra Front, which was linked to al Qaeda.

Shortly after the draft U.N. resolution was proposed, Damascus declared a ceasefire on Aug. 31 which brought a lull in air strikes. However, Syrian troops on Sunday shelled south of Idlib, according to rescuers and residents.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia wanted language to be included in the resolution that would exempt from the truce military offensives against armed groups blacklisted by the Security Council.

But the United States and others refused, diplomats said. The draft instead demands “member states ensure that all measures taken to counter terrorism, including in Idlib Governorate, comply with their obligations under international law.”

The United Nations said that since the start of hostilities in northwest Syria in April, more than 550 civilians have been killed and some 400,000 people displaced. Almost half of the displaced people are living in open-air areas or under trees.

The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meeting in Ankara on Monday agreed to try to ease tensions in the Idlib region, but disagreements between the countries appeared to linger, especially over the threat from Islamic State.

U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced last month that the world body would investigate attacks on U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites in northwest Syria. Russia and Syria have said their forces are not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.

The locations of the U.N.-supported facilities and other humanitarian sites like hospitals and health centres had been shared with the warring parties in a bid to protect them. However, the United Nations has questioned whether it made them a target.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)