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Russia-backed truce in Syria’s eastern Ghouta rattled by violence

© Abdulmonam Eassa, AFP | Syrian children stand by the door of a house as smoke billows in the background during shelling in Hamouria, in the rebel held besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on February 22, 2018.

Video by Robert SUTTON-MATTOCKS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-02-27

A five-hour Russia-ordered truce began Tuesday in Syria's rebel-held eastern Ghouta with the stated aim of allowing people to escape the area being targeted in an offensive by the Moscow-backed government, but the UN confirms fighting has persisted.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the daily truce from 9am to 2pm (0700 GMT to 1200 GMT) and the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” to let civilians leave the area, where government bombardment has killed hundreds since Feb. 18.

France 24's Chloé Domat reports as eastern Ghouta truce begins

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said calm had generally prevailed in the eastern Ghouta from midnight onward, though four rockets had hit the town of Douma in the morning. But the same group said around noon local time that air strikes had struck two towns within the enclave despite the truce. The British-based monitoring group said helicopters dropped two bombs on the town of Shifouniyeh and that a warplane had struck the town of Aftaris. A Syrian military source denied the report.

Later, the United Nations also said the truce had been rattled by fresh violence, making relief operations impossible. "Fighting continues this morning. That is what our reports from eastern Ghouta tell us," a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office, Jens Laerke, told reporters in Geneva.

“The United Nations is mobilised and ready to immediately support life-saving aid convoys to several areas in Eastern Ghouta as conditions allow,” Laerke said.

“We are also ready and have plans for evacuation of hundreds of medical cases as soon as we can,” he added, but underscored that it was currently “impossible” for the UN to authorise any aid operations for desperate civilians given the persisting clashes.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters that the agency has a list of 1,000 people who need medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta, with 600 of those classified as being in “moderate or severe” condition.

The Russian defence ministry said on Monday the measures, decided in agreement with Syrian forces, were intended to help civilians leave and to evacuate the sick and wounded.

But the spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, one of the main rebel groups in eastern Ghouta, accused Russia of presenting people with the choice of forced displacement or being killed in bombardment and siege, and called this a “Russian crime”.

Humanitarian organisations say they need a complete cessation of hostilities in order to do their work, FRANCE 24’s Chloé Domat reports from Beirut.

Despite the apparent calm on the ground in eastern Ghouta, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus told FRANCE 24 that no convoys would set out today.

“We heard about humanitarian corridors but we are not part of it. Such things must be well-planned and must be implemented with the consent of all parties,” the spokeswoman said.

Eastern Ghouta is the last major stronghold near Damascus for rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad, who has driven insurgents from numerous areas with military backing from Russia and Iran.

A UN Security Council resolution passed on Saturday had demanded a 30-day truce across Syria.

Fighting has escalated on several fronts in Syria this year. As Assad has pressed the offensive against eastern Ghouta, Turkey has launched an incursion against Kurdish fighters in the northwestern Afrin region.

Tensions have also flared between Iran and Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran’s expanding influence in Syria. Syrian air defences shot down an Israeli F-16 earlier this month as it returned from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria.

The Syrian war, which is approaching its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people from their homes.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2018-02-27

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