Sweden and Kuwait call for a vote on Thursday on a UN resolution ordering a 30-day ceasefire throughout Syria to allow the delivery of aid and evacuations.
The UN Security Council is expected to vote, probably on Thursday, on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire in throughout Syria to allow deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations, diplomats said.
Sweden and Kuwait, which drafted the measure, requested the vote "as soon as possible," the Swedish mission said on Wednesday, adding that it will likely be scheduled for Thursday.
Ahead of the meeting, Syrian regime forces fired rockets to the besieged rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta near Damascus on Thursday, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 13 people were killed in Douma, the main town in eastern Ghouta, three of them children.
"It was raining on the area so there are no warplanes but it seems the regime chose to use rockets instead," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor, said.
TRT World's Auskar Surbakti has more on the story.
'Killing civilians is massacre'
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped the Security Council would agree to a resolution calling for a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, but warned it would not be easy.
"Then we will have to push for it to take place as soon as possible because there is no alternative but a ceasefire and humanitarian access," he said.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killing of civilians in Syria as a massacre, adding that Berlin would reach out to Russia in its efforts to stop the violence.
"What we currently see, the dreadful events in Syria, a regime fighting not against terrorists, but against its own people, the killing of children, the destruction of hospitals, all this is a massacre which needs to be condemned," Merkel said.
Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday also called on Damascus to "stop the violence" in its deadly assault on the rebel-held enclave.
"We stress the need for the Syrian regime to stop the violence, to allow in humanitarian aid, and to take seriously the path of a political solution to the crisis," the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.
"We are concerned over the continuation of Syrian regime attacks on Eastern Ghouta and the impact on civilians there," it added, stopping short of an outright condemnation.
'Hell on earth'
The proposed resolution, put in a final form on Wednesday, expresses "outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence" and attacks on civilians in several parts of Syria, particularly in Idlib governorate and the opposition-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta.
Whether Russia uses its veto or abstains in a vote on the resolution remains to be seen.
The push for a vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a halt of the "war activities" in eastern Ghouta, Syria's opposition enclave which has come under a fierce bombing campaign by regime forces.
As the death toll from the air strikes escalated sharply, Guterres said life for the 400,000 civilians of eastern Ghouta had become "hell on earth."
Russia called for an urgent council meeting on Thursday to discuss the crisis in eastern Ghouta which Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia described as a "complex situation."
"There are terrorists there who the Syrian army is fighting and the terrorists are shelling Damascus," Nebenzia said.
"It's a complex situation and not just a one-way street," he said, according to remarks released by the Russian mission.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia was not responsible for the situation in the opposition-held district of eastern Ghouta outside the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“Those who support the terrorists are responsible,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters. “Neither Russia, nor Syria, nor Iran are in that category of states as they are waging an absolute war against terrorists in Syria.”
Warplanes pounded eastern Ghouta for a fifth-straight day on Thursday, as the United Nations pleaded for a halt to one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war.
Lifting of sieges
The draft resolution calls for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.
It demands the immediate lifting of all sieges including in eastern Ghouta, Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya and orders all sides to "cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival."
In a concession to Russia, the draft was amended during tough-going negotiations last week to specify that the ceasefire does not apply to attacks directed at extremists from Daesh, Al Qaeda and Jabhat Fateh al Sham – targets the Syrian regime and its Russian allies say they are pursuing.
That would allow the Syrian regime offensive to continue against Al Qaeda-linked militants in Idlib, the last province in Syria outside the control of Damascus.
Some diplomats said they were hoping that Russia abstains, if it is unwilling to back the ceasefire.
Asked whether there was a consensus on the draft text, Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said, "That, I don't know yet."
Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9, but negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia escalated their fierce offensive.
Eastern Ghouta toll
Over 300 civilians have been killed since Sunday in eastern Ghouta, including 24 Syrians who died when regime planes dropped barrel bombs on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Doctors Without Borders said 13 hospitals and clinics that it supports have been damaged or destroyed over the past three days. The International Committee of the Red Cross called for immediate access to tend to the wounded, saying medical personnel in the opposition-held areas were unable to cope amid shortages of medicines and supplies.
Dr Waleed Awata described a desperate, chaotic scene at the small hospital where he works as an anesthesiologist in the town of Zamalka, one of a cluster of settlements that make up eastern Ghouta. The facility, with just 17 beds, received 82 patients on Tuesday night alone, he said.
"We had to give them IVs and treat them on the floor," the 44-year-old physician said.
The hospital was struck Tuesday by barrel bombs – crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes – as well as sporadic artillery fire, Awata said.
More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from the homes in the war, which next month enters its eighth year with no end in sight.
More than 13.1 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, of whom 2.9 million live in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.