The United Nations Security Council has unanimously demanded a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow aid and medical evacuations.
The vote came as Syrian government forces continued to pound the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where 492 civilians – including 116 children – have been killed in the past week.
The resolution’s sponsors Kuwait and Sweden had adjusted the resolution late on Friday in an effort to gain the support of Syrian government ally – and council veto-holder – Russia.
The changes included dropping the demand that the ceasefire take effect in 72 hours, a deadline Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia had described as unrealistic.
Instead, the language was changed to “without delay” and the word “immediate” was also axed in relation to aid deliveries and evacuations.
But the remaining text says that 5.6 million people in 1,244 communities are in “acute need”, demanding that all sides “cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival”.
The resolution, however, says that the ceasefire does not apply to fighting against Islamic State, Al Qaeda or “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with those groups.
This allows the Syrian government to continue fighting jihadists in Idlib who are linked to Al Qaeda. Idlib is the last Syrian province not in government hands.
It is not clear exactly when the ceasefire will start but Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said before the vote that the “UN convoys and evacuation teams are ready to go”.
Speaking after the vote, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “We are late to respond to this crisis, very late.”
Stephen Hickey, acting UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, said: “It has taken us far too long for us to agree on this resolution. While we have been arguing over commas, Assad’s planes have been killing more civilians in their homes and in their hospitals.
“The pictures we see and the stories we hear from this comfortable chamber are the agonising reality for hundreds of thousands of civilians.”
Meanwhile, in Ghouta, many residents were hiding in underground shelters with little food or medical supplies as the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad continued its bombardment.
On Thursday, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said the Syrian government’s bombing campaign had turned the region into “hell on earth” for civilians.
Syria’s war has now been running for seven years.