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U.S. prepared for military action in Syria if United Nations doesn’t stop the bloodshed, Haley warns

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned March 12 that the U.S. "remains prepared to act if we must" on Syria if the United Nations doesn't. (Video: Reuters)

The United States is “prepared to act if we must” to stop indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Syria, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned Monday as she circulated a new draft resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire.

Addressing the Security Council 16 days after it passed a resolution demanding a cease-fire that largely has failed to stop the bombing or allow humanitarian access, Haley compared the situation today to last year when the United States launched airstrikes against a Syrian military base after a deadly chemical weapons attack.

“When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action,” Haley said.

This is one of those times, she added.

The Washington Post spoke to people inside a heavily bombarded suburb of Damascus, Syria. Almost 300 civilians are dead since intense airstrikes began Feb. 18. (Video: Jason Aldag, joyce lee/The Washington Post)

“We warn any nation determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, but most especially the outlaw Syrian regime, the United States remains prepared to act if we must,” she said. “It is not a path we prefer. But it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also threatened targeted strikes in Syria, telling reporters at a news conference in India that France would retaliate if it found “irrefutable evidence” that chemical weapons had been used to kill civilians.

Earlier in the Security Council, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said the bombing and bloodshed in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold, had increased since the council called for a cease-fire. Only a limited number of convoys delivering medical supplies and food have succeeded in reaching civilians — and Syrian government forces confiscated most of the equipment on one load, he said. And not a single critically ill person has been evacuated.

Calling the situation a calamity that is growing more desperate by the day, Guterres said the Syrian government and its allies — an oblique reference to Russia and Iran — had intensified their offensive so much that they have increased the territory they control in the enclave from 10 percent barely a week ago to 60 percent today.

“We have seen nothing but carnage in response to the Security Council’s resolution calling for a halt to the massacre in Eastern Ghouta,” said Arnaud Quemin, the Mercy Corps director of programs in Syria. “Conditions worsen each day. People are fleeing from one shelter to another as the front lines move.”

Last month’s cease-fire was passed with the support of Russia, but only after modifications were made allowing military strikes against “terrorist” groups. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad takes an expansive view of that designation to include not only al-Qaeda and the Islamic State but also rebel opposition groups.

Haley accused Syria, Russia and Iran of using that loophole to bomb hospitals and schools and to “continue starving and pummeling hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian civilians.”

She vowed to eliminate any room for evasion, though it is unclear how it could win the backing of Russia, which has used its veto power to protect the Syrian government in the past.

“It is simple, straightforward and binding,” she said of the U.S. resolution. “It will take effect immediately upon adoption by this council. It contains no counterterrorism loopholes for Assad, Iran and the Russians to hide behind.”

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, mocked the number of times his country was mentioned during the debate Monday — counting 22 times by Haley, 16 times by the French envoy and 12 by the British representative.

He defended the Syrian government, saying it has “the right to remove the threat to the safety of its citizens. The suburbs of Damascus cannot remain a hotbed of terrorism.”

Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said terrorists had conducted chemical attacks on civilians and staged them to make it look as if the Syrian military were to blame. He faulted foreign governments for supporting some rebels.

“Isn’t it enough what they’ve done in Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, invoking very cheap lies?” he said.

Jaafari ended by quoting Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz: “They are liars. They know they are liars. And they know that we know they are liars. However, they still lie, and very loudly so.”