U.N. General Assembly demands truce in Syria, end to Aleppo siege

Reuters– The United Nations General Assembly voted 122 to 13 on Friday to demand an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria, humanitarian aid access throughout the country and an end to all sieges, including in Aleppo.

Thirty-six countries abstained in the vote on the Canadian-drafted resolution on the nearly six-year-old Syrian conflict. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but can carry political weight.

The Syrian army pressed an offensive in Aleppo on Friday with ground fighting and air strikes in an operation to retake all of the city’s besieged rebel-held east that would bring victory in the civil war closer for President Bashar al-Assad.

“This is a vote to stand up and tell Russia and Assad to stop the carnage,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the General Assembly before the vote.

Russia is a close ally of Syria and has been providing military backing to the government for more than a year.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters on Thursday of the resolution: “To expect that it is going to produce some kind of dramatic U-turn in the situation in Syria is unrealistic.”

The U.N. resolution asks the U.N. secretary-general to report in 45 days on the implementation of the resolution and with recommendations “on ways and means to protect civilians.”

Canadian U.N. Ambassador Marc-Andre Blanchard acknowledged that the resolution was not a solution to the conflict, but an important statement.

“It is a reminder that above all else the lives of the Syrian people should be our priority. They are our priority and the world will not stay silent while they suffer without assistance,” he said before the vote.

A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 sparked a civil war and Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. Half of Syria’s 22 million people have been uprooted and more than 400,000 killed.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said that Syria was fighting a war on terrorism “on behalf of the entire world.”

He said unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria “affect in the first place the Syrian citizens and impede the ability of the Syrian government to respond to the daily needs of Syrian citizens, particularly those who have been disadvantaged as a result of the terrorist war imposed on my country Syria.”

Churkin also slammed unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria.

“You are slowly asphyxiating the population you ardently claim to care about,” he said on Friday.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold and James