'No green light for UN to bring humanitarian aid to Eastern Ghouta'
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Fresh regime air strikes and heavy clashes shook Syria's rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Sunday despite a UN demand for a ceasefire to end one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria's civil war.
But "we still don't have the green light to go inside and bring desperately needed food and medical supplies, and to do medical evacuations," UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Panos Moumtizis, told FRANCE 24.
The UN resolution has raised hopes of stemming the bloodshed but it remains unclear when or how broadly the ceasefire could be implemented.
Although the ceasefire applies to all areas in Syria: “It’s quite complicated, because it requires multiple parties and entities to agree to put down their arms and let humanitarian assistance in,” said Moumtizis.
"We are calling upon all the parties in Syria but also governments of influence to make sure that the Security Council resolution is applied right now,” he said. “We cannot wait another day to go. Every day that goes by, more lives are lost."
They called on Russia "to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting", Merkel's office said in a statement.
Pope Francis also joined international calls for a ceasefire, saying in his Sunday Angelus prayers: "All this is inhuman. One cannot fight evil with another evil."
In Douma, the main town in Eastern Ghouta, fresh air raids and artillery strikes could be heard on Sunday, an AFP correspondent in the town said.
Ground fighting intensifies
At least seven civilians were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, bringing the total number of dead during the week to 527, including 129 children.
Although there appeared to be fewer air strikes, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, fighting had intensified on the ground.
Heavy clashes erupted in southern areas of Eastern Ghouta, he said, with at least 13 members of pro-regime forces and six fighters from the Jaish al-Islam rebel group killed.
"They are the most violent clashes to take place since the beginning of the month," said Abdel Rahman, whose Britain-based group uses a network of sources across Syria to monitor the country's conflict.
Mohamed Alloush, a key figure in Jaish al-Islam, tweeted that the rebels were "resisting" bids by regime forces to enter the region.
Eastern Ghouta, home to some 400,000 people, is surrounded by government-controlled territory and its residents are unwilling or unable to flee.
The two main rebel groups controlling the enclave -- Jaish al-Islam and Faylaq al-Rahman -- welcomed the Security Council demand, but vowed to fight back in case of renewed attacks.
Jaish al-Islam said it was "committed to protecting humanitarian convoys" but warned it would "immediately respond to any violation".
UN ceasefire resolution watered down
UN diplomats say Saturday's Security Council resolution was watered down to ensure it was not vetoed by Russia, which has provided diplomatic and military support to Assad's regime.
Language specifying that the ceasefire would start 72 hours after adoption was scrapped and the term "immediate" was dropped in reference to aid deliveries and evacuations.
In another concession, the ceasefire would not apply to operations against the Islamic State group or al Qaeda, along with "individuals, groups, undertakings and entities" associated with the terror groups.
Iran's army chief-of-staff said Sunday that the Syrian military would continue to target "terrorist groups" in Eastern Ghouta.
"The zones on the periphery of Damascus... are not covered by the ceasefire and the offensives and clearing operations by the Syrian army will continue," said Mohammad Bagheri, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Iran has also been a key ally of Assad's regime.
The rebels in Eastern Ghouta have also been firing into Damascus.
Around 20 people have been killed in eastern districts of the capital since February 18, according to state media.
A total of more than 340,000 people have been killed and millions driven from the homes in Syria's war, which next month enters its eighth year with no diplomatic solution in sight.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)