Russia and Syria on Friday came under strong criticisms from western countries in the UN Security Council over the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria on Thursday.
According to reports, the soldiers died in an attack by Russia-backed Syrian government forces in the northwestern province of Idlib.
In separate contributions at an emergency meeting of the council in New York, the United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia condemned the attack.
But China expressed tacit support for Syria, saying the Idlib crisis was rooted in control of the province by terrorists, adding that all external peace efforts must respect Syria’s territorial integrity.
But Dominican Republic, Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, Tunisia and Niger took the middle course by calling for immediate ceasefire and urging all parties to explore diplomatic solutions.
The strongest words of the evening came from the U.S. whose ambassador, Kelly Craft, said she was not at the meeting to listen and discuss, but to speak directly without mincing words.
Describing the attack as senseless and barbaric, Ms Craft said Turkey had her country’s support to “respond in self-defence’’ to the “unjustified attack.”
The representative of the UK, Jonathan Allen, decried the suffering of the Syrian people caused by “the merciless and disproportionate campaign being waged by the Syrian regime and its Russian backers.”
Allen painted a graphic picture of the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Syrian government’s military offensive in Idlib and called on those responsible to desist.
In his contribution, China’s representative, Zhang Jun, said the Syrian conflict had its complicated background, adding that the council must be “impartial, objective and comprehensive’’ in facilitating political settlement.
Mr Jun recalled a report by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that terrorists were targeting civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers in Idlib.
He said: “Eradicating the forces of terror is a necessary requirement for the restoration of peace and stability in Syria and in Idlib.
“The least of the terrorist groups should be resolutely crushed in accordance with the relevant council resolutions and international law and the safe haven established by terrorist forces in Syria should be liquidated.’’
The Syrian government sees the opposition forces trying to overthrow it since 2011 as terrorists, a position reaffirmed by the country’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, at the meeting.
Mr Ja’afari maintained that the Syrian government would continue to combat terrorism to “liberate every inch of our territories whether through military operations or local reconciliations.”
He accused Turkey of turning the observation posts in Idlib into operation zones to support the terrorists in their “plundering, looting, kidnapping, torturing, raping’’ and stealing of humanitarian aids.
Mr Ja’afari alleged that the Turkish soldiers killed on Thursday were operating far away from the observation posts.
The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, also backed Mr Ja’afari’s claim that the Turkish soldiers were killed outside the observation posts.
Nebenzya said Russian and Turkish forces on the ground in Syria were constantly in touch, sharing coordinates of troop positions and conveying same to Syrian forces in real time.
He said the coordinates received by Russia from Turkey on Thursday did not mention the areas where the soldiers died.
But the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN, Feridun Hadi, dismissed the claim, saying the soldiers died after their convoy was targeted in a series of airstrikes within the de-escalation area.
“Let me underline that the Turkish forces that were attacked were alone in that area. The logical conclusion of that is they were deliberately attacked.
“There was prior coordination in writing with Russian forces about the location of our convoy, but airstrikes continued despite our immediate warnings right after the very first attack.
“Even the ambulances sent for wounded soldiers were targeted. So, this was a belligerent act of aggression against Turkey,’’ he said.
All members of the council echoed the UN Secretary General’s call for immediate ceasefire, noting that the only solution to the conflict was dialogue and not military confrontation.