Russia on Wednesday blocked a British-drafted UN Security Council statement condemning the Syrian government attacks on the city of Aleppo, diplomats said.
It was the second time in a month that Russia objected to a Western bid to slam Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air assault against Syria’s biggest city that has killed hundreds since Dec. 15 last year.
Aid groups say that Scud missiles and barrels packed with explosives and shrapnel have been dropped on schools, markets and hospitals in Aleppo, killing more than 700 people.
Britain circulated a draft press statement expressing “outrage” at the government attacks on civilians to the other 14 members of the council on Tuesday.
The statement needs the agreement of all members to be released, and Russia objected, insisting all references to Aleppo be taken out, diplomats said. So Britain withdrew the text for fear of seeing a tepid message put out, they added.
Russia is a key backer of al-Assad and has used its power as a permanent council member to veto three legally binding resolutions on Syria since the war started in March 2011.
The US proposed a non-binding statement on Aleppo last month, but Russia blocked it with what Western diplomats called “wrecking amendments” that would have watered it down.
The US had doubts about releasing the new statement so close to the Syria peace conference due to start in Switzerland on Jan. 22, diplomats said.
“The Security Council cannot remain quiet on this issue,” one Western diplomat said of the new attempt. “The British draft is not anything that anyone should be surprised by.”
In the statement, a copy of which was obtained by reporters, the council members “expressed outrage at the daily use of air strikes by the Syrian government against the city of Aleppo which have left over 700 dead and over 3,000 injured since December 15.”
They called the attacks “cynical and systematic” in their disregard for international law banning attacks on civilians.
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels overran the Aleppo headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as claims emerged that the al-Qaeda-linked group had massacred prisoners there in cold blood.
The rebels were reportedly also pressing ISIL in Raqa, the only provincial capital lost by al-Assad and a stronghold of the group.
The operation in Aleppo came a day after ISIL’s spokesman threatened to “crush” opposition fighters who have attacked the group in several provinces.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s ambassador announced two Swedish reporters missing in Syria since November last year had been freed. Swedish media named them as Niclas Hammarstroem and Magnus Falkehed.
At least 25 journalists have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, and more than 30 are thought to be missing.