More bombs hit Syria rebel enclave ahead of UN vote

BEIRUT • A new wave of bombs struck Syria's eastern Ghouta district unabated yesterday, witnesses said, hours before a UN Security Council vote to demand a 30-day ceasefire to end one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the war.

For a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by government forces and their allies have pounded the densely populated enclave east of the capital, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.

The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.

At least 436 people have been killed and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. The dead include at least 99 children.

Eyes were on Moscow, and whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's veto-wielding ally would back the United Nations Security Council's draft ceasefire resolution, block it or seek to water it down in a way that would let bombing go on.

Previous ceasefires have a poor record of ending fighting on the ground in Syria, and Moscow has a history of blocking United Nations Security Council measures that would harm Mr Assad's interests.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to vote for a draft ceasefire resolution, but it needed guarantees that militants would honour it.

"There are no guarantees that (the rebels) will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas," Mr Lavrov said in a briefing.

"That is why for the resolution to be efficient - and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so - we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta," he said.

The Security Council was scheduled to vote at 11am yesterday (12am Saturday, Singapore time) on a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid deliveries to a besieged rebel-held enclave.

Syria's government, with its allies Russia, Iran and Shi'ite militias, has often used the tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.

Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.

"We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere," Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council yesterday.

The UN resolution does not cover the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front, groups which Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted in eastern Ghouta.

A vote, if passed, would pave the way for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure, and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'More bombs hit Syria rebel enclave ahead of UN vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe