Russia and China vetoed on Thursday a resolution backed by the vast majority of United Nations Security Council members that called for a cease-fire in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, the country's last rebel stronghold. The resolution demanded that counter-terrorism activities comply with international humanitarian law.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council the aim of the resolution _ drafted by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait _ was ``to save the international terrorists who are entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat.''
Idlib is dominated by the al-Qaida-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Syrian forces, backed by Russia, had targeted Idlib in a four-month ground and air offensive but civilians have been widely affected. A cease-fire that went into effect at the end of August has held despite some violations.
Germany's UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen countered that supporters of the purely humanitarian resolution ``stand firm in our resolve to combat terrorism'' _ but insist that operations must ensure protection of civilians as required by international law.
The vote in the 15-member council on Thursday was 12-2 with Equatorial Guinea abstaining. Another rival resolution calling for a cease-fire in Idlib drafted by Russia and China was to be voted on shortly.
Earlier, a senior UN official told the Security Council that the humanitarian situation in Idlib was ``alarming:'' An estimated 400,000 people have fled their homes in the country's northwest in just the last four months, and around 600,000 are living in tents, camps or out in the open.
Deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller said that, following months of intensive fighting and a ``fragile cease-fire,'' the outlook for Idlib province remains uncertain as winter approaches.
She said humanitarian organizations estimate an addition $68.4 million is required for winterization, shelter and non-food items.