Russia blocks UN criticism of attacks in northwest Syria

The Idlib province town of Maaret al-Numan has been repeatedly hit by air strikes since the Syrian government and its ally Russia stepped up their bombardment of the jihadist-held northwest in late April (AFP Photo/Abdulaziz KETAZ) (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Russia on Monday blocked a UN Security Council statement criticizing Syria's military campaign in the Idlib region that Western powers fear will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Russia said in a note seen by AFP that the proposed statement was "unbalanced" because it did not mention the towns of Hajin or Baguz, where civilians have suffered during US-backed fighting against the Islamic State group.

Belgium, Germany and Kuwait had put forward the proposed text following two emergency meetings of the council on the worsening violence in the jihadist-held region.

Russia last month blocked a separate statement also warning of a humanitarian catastrophe from an all-out assault on Idlib region, home to three million people.

Council statements require unanimous support by all 15 members.

Syria and its Russian ally have stepped up air strikes and shelling in Idlib since late April, forcing over 270,000 people to flee their homes.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said Moscow objected to "everything" in the proposed statement and accused the drafters of attempting to stage a public relations stunt.

"The positions are known," Polyanskiy told AFP. "Proposing such a document is playing in the PR field, not in the field of bringing a solution."

The proposed text would have expressed "grave concern over the intensifying hostilities in northwestern Syria," including attacks on hospitals, clinics and schools.

It warned of "a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in northwestern Syria," according to the text seen by AFP.

The proposed measure would have called on the parties to return to the ceasefire arrangement agreed by Russia and Turkey, a rebel backer, in September last year.

Russia maintains that it is upholding the ceasefire and that only "terrorists" are being targeted in military operations.

Most of Idlib is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group dominated by former members of Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate which is on the UN terrorism list.

Western powers fear an all-out assault on Idlib would be the bloodiest battle yet of Syria's devastating eight-year war.