As the death toll from a four-day assault on Eastern Ghouta rose above 200 last week, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday, 8 February to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country. However, Russia rejected Assistant Secretary-General and UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Panos Moumtzis’ appeal for a month-long humanitarian ceasefire in Syria as
“unrealistic”. The UN has said that since calling for the ceasefire on 6 February, bombings in the country have intensified and the suffering of civilians in Syria has worsened. On Saturday 10 February, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that between 4 - 9 February, Syrian airstrikes, as well as those of its allies, had killed 230 civilians, which, depending on the circumstances, may constitute war crimes. The High Commissioner also called for “urgent international action.” In an official statement released on 12 February, Ali al-Za’tari, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, also described the recent surge in violence as “some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict” and asserted that the “escalation is taking its cruelest toll on civilians… with reports of hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, massive displacement and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities.” Even though Russia maintains veto power at the Security Council, Sweden has insisted that it must nevertheless try to gain support for a ceasefire. As Sweden has asserted, “when international law, including humanitarian law is violated on a daily basis, it is our duty to act”. Finally, on 14 February, after weeks of appeals from the UN, the Eastern Ghouta region received its first humanitarian aid delivery. However, much more is needed and will be difficult to deliver without a cessation of fighting in the area. In the meantime, the humanitarian situation remains one of the worst the world has seen.
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