Civilians stay put despite 'pause' in Syria bloodshed

Local residents of Ghouta district located in the eastern section of Syria are literally "awaiting death" as they are facing one of the strongest bombardments of its cities by government forces to flush out rebel groups holed up in Damascus and surrounding regions.

During Thursday's meeting of the humanitarian taskforce in Geneva, the United Nations received notice that it may get permission from Damascus to go to Douma in eastern Ghouta. Mark Lowcock, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, addressing members of the UN Security Council.

European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has sent a letter to the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran urging them to support the ceasefire in Syria's eastern Ghouta and allow aid to enter the besieged areas.

The air strikes and clashes that killed 600 civilians in 10 days have reduced since the Kremlin announced five-hour halts in the bombardment.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia reminded the council that the resolution adopted Saturday also demands that all parties "engage immediately to ensure full and comprehensive implementation" of the cease-fire - and "underscores the need for the parties to agree on humanitarian pauses ... and truces".

Mr Lowcock said lorries loaded with supplies have been poised to go to 10 besieged areas, including Douma, the main town in the enclave, since Saturday. But no humanitarian aid has gone in and no civilians have left. "Under global humanitarian law, humanitarian corridors are things which need to be well planned and must be implemented with the consent of parties on all sides, not only with one side", she told AFP. On one side are Syria, Russia, and Iran, and on the other are America and Israel.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin told Russia news agencies on Thursday that the militants who control the suburbs - an area known as eastern Ghouta - are shelling the route, manned by Syrian and Russian forces, and preventing evacuations.

Kelley Currie, the USA ambassador for economic and social affairs, called a five-hour pause "cynical, callous, and in flagrant defiance of the demands" for a cessation of hostilities "for at least 30 days - every day, all day".

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Lowcock said that wouldn't provide enough time for humanitarians to deliver aid and conduct medical evacuations.

"Russia, Iran and the Assad regime are not even trying to hide their intentions", Currie told the council.

The government's campaign to regain control over Eastern Ghouta intensified on February 18.

Syrian government forces have repelled three attacks carried out by militants during a humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta, spokesman for Russian center for Syrian reconciliation Maj.

Representatives of Jaish al-Islam, Failaq al-Rahman and Ahrar al-Sham also agreed to expel, within 15 days of the truce going into effect, elements of banned groups Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the Nusra Front and al-Qaida who have taken refuge in eastern Ghouta.

Several council members criticized the Russian proposal.

FILE - Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia speaks to reporters after attending a Security Council meeting, August 9, 2017, at U.N. headquarters.

  • Adam Floyd