The U.N. Security Council on Saturday demanded a 30-day truce across Syria as rescuers in the country's eastern Ghouta region said bombing had not let up long enough for them to count bodies during one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war. Shortly after the unanimous vote by the 15-member council, warplanes struck a town in eastern Ghouta, the last rebel enclave near Syria's capital, an emergency service and a war monitoring group said. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres appealed on Wednesday for an immediate end to "war activities" in eastern Ghouta, where nearly 400,000 people have lived under government siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.
The United Nations on Saturday passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire across Syria, but Western diplomats said they were sceptical the Syrian regime would actually end its ferocious assault on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta. After days of intense negotiations, Russia agreed not use its veto to scuttle the UN security council resolution, which calls for a halt to fighting as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the wounded from besieged areas. The unanimous passage of the resolution was hailed by Western diplomats, who had pushed hard for a deal amid a week of intense Syrian regime bombing of Eastern Ghouta. Hours before the vote, the civilian death toll climbed above 500. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, castigated Russia for days of delays which slowed the passage of the resolution. “In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?” A picture taken on February 20 shows smoke plumes rising following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region Credit: ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images It remains to be seen what impact the deal crafted in meeting rooms at the UN’s New York headquarters in New York will have on the ash-filled streets of Eastern Ghouta. Mrs Haley said the US was “deeply sceptical the regime will comply” with the ceasefire and called on Russia to pressure Assad’s forces to respect it. Russia demanded that the resolution not include a specific time for the ceasefire to go into force. The text instead reads that it should begin “without delay”, making it unclear when the fighting would actually stop. The ceasefire does not extend to terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Both Russia and the Syrian regime accuse large swathes of the Syrian rebels of being al-Qaeda members, giving themselves a broad license to continue strikes. “Russia used this loophole in previous agreements to continue bombing indiscriminately,” said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, an Israeli think tank. Members of the United Nations Security Council vote for ceasefire to Syrian bombing in eastern Ghouta, at the United Nations headquarters in New York Credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz One Western diplomat said they feared the exemption on al-Qaeda might render the resolution “worthless” but that they were still hopeful its passage at UN would compel Russia to at least reduce the violence in Eastern Ghouta. “The people are happy but they do not trust the regime and its allies,” said one man in Eastern Ghouta, after hearing the news from New York. The council had been due to vote on Friday but the vote was delayed. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, tweeted her frustration, demanding a vote, as the discussions continued late into Friday afternoon. Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria. How many more people will die before the The Security Council agrees to take up this vote? Let’s do this tonight. The Syrian people can’t wait.— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) February 23, 2018 More than 500 people have been killed since the assault began Sunday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. New air strikes on the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Saturday took the civilian death toll from seven days of devastating bombardment to more than 500. A Syrian rescuer helps a man at the site of Syrian government bombardments in Douma Credit: HAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP “This is about saving lives,” said Sweden's UN Ambassador Olof Skoog. "UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go. It's time for the council to come together and shoulder its responsibility to urgently avert a situation that is beyond words in its desperation,” he said. Russia is one of five permanent members of the Security Council that can veto a draft resolution. It has done so repeatedly throughout Syria’s civil war, torpedoing numerous efforts to stem the bloodshed even as its air force carries out bombing runs on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally. Russia had described civilian testimonies from the embattled area as “mass psychosis” earlier in the week, and blocked a UN Security Council vote. Ghouta dispatch On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote a joint letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling for an immediate truce in Eastern Ghouta. “France and Germany condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, including very large numbers of children, and against civil and medical infrastructure in clear violation of the most fundamental international humanitarian law,” it read. The letter included a condemnation of the attacks on Damascus by opposition fighters inside Eastern Ghouta, but ended with a call for Russia to “assume its full responsibilities”. In a statement released Friday, the European Union called for an immediate ceasefire and access for aid trucks, citing a “moral duty” to protect civilians. Damascus (South West Syria) territorial control map "The European Union is running out of words to describe the horror being experienced by the people of Eastern Ghouta," the bloc said. US president Donald Trump said Russia and Iran's behavior in Syria was a 'disgrace'. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also spoke out Friday. "Russia and Iran must stop the regime," he said. Turkey, Iran and Russia are co-signatories on the de-escalation agreement. Mr Cavusoglu said the offensives in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib were "contrary" to the agreements negotiated by the three countries. How Russia's secret mercenary army came up against the US in Syria Eastern Ghouta is the last holdout of Islamist and opposition fighters near the capital. The densely populated area has been under siege since April 2013 and has become synonymous with civilian suffering – either through starvation and lack of access to medical supplies, or under intense aerial bombardment. On Friday, helicopters dropped barrel bombs on homes in the Hamorieh neighbourhood, and warplanes strafed the residential neighbourhood of Ein Tarma. According to Save the Children, more than 70 per cent of buildings in Ein Tarma have been destroyed or damaged. Infrastructure across Eastern Ghouta has sustained heavy damage, and some areas have not had water or electricity for two years. Twenty-two hospitals and clinics have bombed since Sunday. Medical charities have accused the Syrian government of deliberately targeting healthcare facilities, which is a war crime. Hala, 9, receives treatment at a makeshift hospital following Syrian government bombardments on rebel-held town of Saqba, in Eastern Ghouta Credit: AMER ALMOHIBANY/AFP Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said 13 hospitals it supports have been destroyed or damaged this week and that medical staff were struggling to cope with repeated mass-casualty influxes. The latest surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta is thought to be the first phase of an assault that will eventually include ground troops and will follow the same arc as Syrian government forces’ battle for east Aleppo. In Aleppo, the population was starved and endured weeks of air raids, after which ground troops moved in and fought block by block until the entire area was back under government control. Surviving civilians and militants were then bussed to Idlib province, one of the last areas of Syria still controlled by anti-government forces.
Islamist militant group Boko Haram is suspected to have kidnapped scores of girls on Monday from a school in Dapchi village, Yobe state. It would be the largest mass abduction since Boko Haram took more than 270 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014, sparking an online campaign that went viral and spurring several governments into action to try and find them. A roll-call at the school in Dapchi on Tuesday showed 91 students were absent, though estimates of the number of missing range from around 50 to more than 100.
President Trump on Friday castigated the armed resource officer in Parkland, Fla., who resigned from the Broward County Sheriff’s office after surveillance footage showed he waited outside the school during last week’s mass shooting.
During a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday, a reporter asked President Trump a question about his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s security clearance, to which Trump replied that it would be up to chief of staff John Kelly.
WASHINGTON ― As John Bentley waited in line to see President Barack Obama campaign for Hillary Clinton just days before the 2016 election, he worried that he’d been unable to persuade his son to cast a ballot for Clinton, too.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines on Saturday became the latest major corporations to sever marketing ties with the National Rifle Association as the fallout from last week's massacre at a Florida high school took its toll on the gun advocacy group. The exodus of corporate names, ranging from a major insurer to car rental brands and a household moving company, began after the NRA launched a counter-offensive against a student-led campaign for tighter U.S. gun laws. The NRA responded by saying its members were being punished, but would not be intimidated, by what it called "a shameful display of political and civic cowardice" from some corporations.
A U.S. court temporarily blocked the Trump administration from delaying or ending an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing oil and gas leaks during production, according to court documents, marking the fourth time either Congress or the courts have upheld the rule's implementation. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in an order filed on Thursday, granted the states of California and New Mexico's bid for a preliminary injunction and denied the administration's request to move the trial to another court venue in Wyoming. Its decision was part of a lawsuit filed by the two western U.S. states against U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management in a case that was combined with another filed by a coalition of 17 groups, including the Sierra Club environmental advocacy organization and several tribal groups.
Around 2,000 Roman Catholic Filipinos protested in Manila on Saturday against a push to legalise divorce, with church groups also using the "Walk for Life" march to slam President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly drugs war. The pre-dawn protest was organised by church groups worried about the possible passage of a divorce bill, which is being championed by Duterte's allies in Congress.
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue headlines of the week. None of these stories is legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out; here are the real facts:
A wave of companies has ended their association with the National Rifle Association as the backlash against the gun lobby group spreads. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, companies have come under pressure on social media to sever their ties with the NRA. The NRA's five million members have, until now, enjoyed a raft of favourable deals from the NRA's corporate partners, including cut-price car hire. However Hertz and Enterprise holdings - the parent company of major car rental firms Enterprise, Alamo and National - announced the end of their co-branding memberships. First National Bank of Omaha, which offers the "Official Credit Card of the NRA" - with benefits including five per cent cash back on petrol and sporting goods - announced it was ending the arrangement. Read more | Florida school shooting Symantec, which offered anti-virus software, has stopped offering NRA members a discount which slashed the price of its top package from $110 to $48. On Saturday, United Airlines and Delta Airlines both released statements that they would no longer offer discounts for NRA events and asked that the gun lobby remove references to them from their website. Chubb Insurance has confirmed it will no longer underwrite "NRA Carry Guard" policies, although the company took the decision three months ago. The sweeping corporate desertion of the NRA follows a social media campaign under the #BoycottNRA hashtag, which has named and shamed companies with ties to the gun lobby group. The following companies have cut ties with the NRA over the last 24 hours. - Enterprise - Wyndham - Metlife - Hertz - Best Western - First National Bank - Alamo - National - Symantec - Chubb - SIRVA #BoycottNRA The list is growing!! RETWEET to show support!!— Brian Krassenstein�� (@krassenstein) February 23, 2018 Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was founded after the 2012 shootings in Sandy Hook, has sent letters to streaming television companies demanding they axe NRA TV from their line-ups. Such is the groundswell of anger that a number of companies which severed their links with the NRA some time ago have publicly disowned the organisation on social media. In the past the NRA has not been averse to orchestrating a boycott campaign of its own, notably in 2000, when it targeted Smith & Wesson, which had cut a deal with the Clinton administration. The gun manufacturers were accused of "caving in" after agreeing a package of measures including restrictions on sales, the introduction of locking devices and limits on clip sizes. Gun owners deserted Smith & Wesson, which suffered a 40 per cent slump in gun sales.