UN Security Council set to endorse Syria ceasefire

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura leaves the Four Seasons hotel in Syria, on Feb 18, 2016.
UN special envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura leaves the Four Seasons hotel in Syria, on Feb 18, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council is expected to vote on Friday (Feb 26) on a US-Russian draft resolution endorsing the Syria ceasefire, diplomats said.

The 15-member council is set to meet at 2000 GMT (4.00 am Saturday Singapore time) to hear a report from UN envoy Staffan de Mistura and could vote on the measure at that session.

The draft text obtained by AFP welcomes the truce as "a step towards a lasting ceasefire" and endorses the US-Russian agreement on the truce.

It "demands the cessation of hostilities to begin at midnight (Damascus time)" and renews a call to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered.

The measure urges all countries, in particular those involved in the Syrian peace process, to "use their influence with the parties to the cessation of hostilities to ensure fulfillment of those commitments."

Mr De Mistura is due to report to the council, a few hours before the ceasefire is due to go into effect.

Russia and the United States have set a deadline of midnight Damascus time on Friday (6.00 am Saturday Singapore time) for "the cessation of hostilities" between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and non-militant rebel forces.

The deal excludes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, which control large swaths of territory in Syria.

If the ceasefire takes hold, Mr De Mistura hopes to convene a new round of peace talks next week, possibly on March 4.

He suspended peace talks in early February as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air powers, went on the offensive in northern Aleppo province.

The truce will also help UN agencies scale up deliveries of humanitarian aid to hard-to-reach areas across Syria's many frontlines.

Diplomats said the council members had until midnight on Friday to provide comments on the draft resolution, with a view to prepare for a vote at the council meeting later.

Prospects for the ceasefire appear shaky, with diplomats saying the complex arrangements stand little chance of being implemented.

US President Barack Obama warned Russia and Syria that the "world will be watching" when the ceasefire goes into force.

"Even under the best of circumstances, we don't expect the violence to end immediately," Mr Obama said.

More than 260,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since imploded into a multi-sided proxy war.