UNITED NATIONS -- Russia and China on Thursday (September 19) vetoed a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution backed by 12 of the 15 member states that called for a ceasefire in war-torn Idlib Province, Syria.
Germany, Belgium and Kuwait had led the push for the resolution, noting that half a million Syrians have been displaced in Idlib since government forces opened an offensive four months ago.
They warned that the conflict could become the century's worst humanitarian crisis if the fighting persisted and urged Russia not to veto what they said was a "purely humanitarian" measure.
But following two weeks of negotiations, Russia quashed the text after pressing unsuccessfully to include an exception for "anti-terrorist operations".
The failed resolution said that all parties should cease hostilities "to avoid a further deterioration of the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Idlib Governorate, beginning at noon Damascus time on 21 September."
Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, denounced "the surge of humanitarian activism" by other members of the Security Council whenever the Syrian regime -- which is backed by Russia -- recovered territory.
"The resolution was doomed to fail from the outset," he said.
Russia and China countered by presenting an alternative resolution, which was easily voted down later in Thursday's session.
It had specified that the ceasefire would not apply to military operations against individuals, groups or entities "associated with terrorist groups".
Western nations said the wording was unacceptable, as it allowed too much room for interpretation and may not have stopped the bombing of civilians.
"Bombing hospitals, schools and civilian facilities is no help in the fight against terrorism," said Marc Pecsteen, Belgium's ambassador to the UN.
Russia supports the Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad, who have been conducting a bloody four-month-long campaign to wrest the northwestern province of Idlib from rebel forces.
A deal Russia and Turkey reached last year was meant to prevent a bloodbath in Idlib, but bombardments restarted in late April.
About 1,000 civilians have been killed since then, mostly in air strikes and shelling, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The humanitarian situation remains alarming," said Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary general for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
On Wednesday (September 18), UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in appealing for an end to air and artillery bombardments of Idlib, citing the devastating impact on civilians.
The vote Thursday saw Russia's 13th veto of a UN resolution since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011.
In a similar attempt in June to protect its Syrian ally from international scrutiny, Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement criticising Syria's military campaign in Idlib.
Russia in May blocked a separate statement warning of a humanitarian catastrophe from an all-out assault on the Idlib region.
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.
Moscow objected to "everything" in the proposed statement, Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said at the time.
Moscow on May 16 presented a draft resolution to the Security Council accusing the UN's chemical weapons watchdog of "politicisation" just before the start of a new probe of chemical attacks in Syria, where the regime has long been accused of using chemical weapons.
The chemical weapons regulator, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), agreed last year to set up a mechanism that would identify users of chemical weapons, a move bitterly opposed by Russia and Syria.