As It Happens

UN ambassador for Sweden stands by Syria ceasefire — even as fighting escalates

While Syrians lament another failed UN ceasefire resolution, Sweden's Security Council ambassador is hopeful there's still a chance to salvage the plan.
Syrian children and adults receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic on the rebel-held village of al-Shifuniyah in the Eastern Ghouta region on Monday. (Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty Images)
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Syrian Nour Adam says there was a chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta just hours after a UN ceasefire was announced on Sunday.

"This week is like nothing else," Adam, a resident of the besieged suburb of Damascus, told As It Happens host Carol Off on Monday.

"The warplanes did not leave the sky of Ghouta and the missiles did not stop hitting every village of every neighbourhood."

Nour Adam, a resident of the besieged Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, says attacks only intensified after the United Nations Security Council announced a ceasefire on Sunday. 5:27

Over the past week Syria's army and its allies have subjected the rebel-held enclave to one of the heaviest bombardments of the seven-year war, killing hundreds, Reuters reports.

On Sunday health authorities there said several people had suffered symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure and on Monday rescue workers and a war monitor said seven small children were killed by air and artillery strikes in one town.

Sweden is one of the countries that pushed for a UN Security Council resolution Saturday urging a 30-day truce.

Off spoke with Carl Skau, Sweden's alternate representative to the Security Council, about the ceasefire — and why he still believes it can make a difference in the war-torn country.

Here is part of that conversation.

You spent days trying to get this Syria ceasefire resolution approved by the security council and it appears that it's already fallen apart. How do you explain that?

I think it's too early to say that this is falling apart. We are actively engaging now with all relevant parties to ensure the implementation.

We were speaking with people on the ground — Syrians who live there and who are describing a very different situation. It may appear like there's progress in New York today, but they are describing how the attacks on their cities, on the communities, have intensified since this agreement. 

The intention of this resolution is really to de-escalate, of course, and to decrease the levels of violence. And so we will continue to push for that. 

We are receiving these reports as well with deep concern, but what we are trying to do is move forward to ensure that this has effect also on the ground.

U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, centre, speaks to the U.K.'s Stephen Hickey, right, and Swedish ambassador Olof Skoog, left, before the United Nations Security Council vote for ceasefire to Syrian bombing in Eastern Ghouta. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

What we're hearing from Russia and from Syria is that even within this ceasefire plan, there's a kind of loophole for them, isn't there? Because it excludes attacks on terrorists, and whoever the Russians or the Syrians regard as terrorists.

So how complete can this ceasefire really be?

The resolution demands the cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for 30 days, and so there is no caveats in terms of geography or the timeline here.

There is, indeed, a caveat in terms of military operations against terrorist groups designated by the Security Council.

But the letter of spirit of this resolution does not open for any escalation of violence, as you have pointed to, but rather de-escalation of violence.

A young man cleans a damaged house in the besieged town of Douma on Monday after a UN ceasefire was announced and ignored. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

I understand the efforts you have put into this and how difficult it has been to get the Security Council resolution to council. But at the same time, does it not appear that Russia and Syria are making a mockery of this? 

I think it's too early to say.

We have a meeting in the Security Council on Syria already on Wednesday. It's two days from now, and that will be the time for the secretary general to report back on what has actually taken place in these initial days.

Then the resolution calls also for a report back in two weeks, 15 days, and that will be another follow-up in terms of the implementation. And this, of course, will be an opportunity for the secretary general to point to should there be parties to this agreement who are not complying.

Syrian babies receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta that took place after the UN Security Council agreed to a ceasefire in the region. (Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty Images)

We're talking about a ceasefire agreement — a relatively simple resolution that would open up humanitarian corridors for food and medicine.

If the entire apparatus of the international community, the Security Council, is not able to deliver a simple 30-day ceasefire of some hours of the day when this kind of aid can be brought in, what do you say to the people of Syria who have lost faith in you?

I understand if there is a loss of faith. There have been Security Council resolutions in the past that have not been implemented. 

But what I think is important now is that we manage to reach consensus on this resolution. It has strong language in terms of de-escalation, in terms of humanitarian access, in terms of evacuations.

Our focus now needs to be on making sure that it is implemented, and I think it's too early to say whether this has had an impact or not.

I certainly hope that this time around, given that the Russians have signed up to this as well and all of the other members of the Security Council, that this will have an impact on the ground.

With files from Reuters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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