U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley ratcheted up her rhetoric against Russia on Thursday, saying more pressure needs to be put on Moscow to stop the war in Syria.
“Many of you said we need to put pressure on the Syrian regime; that’s actually not the case. We need to put pressure on Russia,” Haley told her counterparts on the 15-nation Security Council.
The council was holding its monthly meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, where U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien told them that at least six hospitals and three schools have been bombed there this month, and a “noose has tightened” around besieged eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people have been cut off from U.N. aid convoys since October 2016.
“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia, because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to,” Haley said.
The U.S. envoy said the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by its continued protection from Moscow.
“Because Russia continues to cover for the Syrian regime, Russia continues to allow them to keep humanitarian aid from the people that need it, Russia continues to cover for a leader that uses chemical weapons against his own people, Russia continues to veto and Assad continues to do these things, because they know Russia will continue to cover for him,” Haley said.
“I will continue to press the Security Council to act, to do something regardless if the Russians continue to veto it, because it is our voice that needs to be heard,” she added.
Russia has used its veto eight times in the 6-year-long conflict to protect the Assad regime from sanctions and other international action.
“The ongoing criticism of the Syrian government and the emotional calls to the country guarantors, including Russia, don’t help anything,” Russia’s acting ambassador Petr Illichev told council members. “We are carrying out our obligations in good faith; there are other important players who are not hurrying to meet us halfway.”
Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, led talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, that led to a cessation of hostilities in December that can be described as shaky at best. But the Russian envoy told council members that, “In Syria as a whole, the cessation of hostilities is holding.”
This despite a poison gas attack earlier this month and ongoing shelling, airstrikes and ground fighting in several parts of the country.
Earlier Thursday, the Russian government called on Israel and other countries to avoid any actions that may escalate tension in Syria, after Syrian officials accused Israel of conducting airstrikes against an arms supply hub near Damascus International Airport.
“All countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Peskov also said Syria’s sovereignty should be respected.
The arms hub is operated by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Syrian rebel and regional intelligence sources said the strikes targeted weapons that were shipped from Iran on military and commercial cargo planes.
Throughout the Syrian war, which began in March 2011, Israel has made it clear it would not allow shipments of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah units fighting in Syria. Israeli forces have on multiple occasions used airstrikes or other attacks to stop such moves, with the military often declining to confirm it was responsible for the strikes.
Hezbollah and Israel fought each other in the 2006 Lebanon War.
VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to this report.