Syrian planes strike eastern Ghouta despite Russian truce

BEIRUT • Syrian government warplanes struck the eastern Ghouta region yesterday and Damascus accused rebels of shelling a safe route out, despite a Russian call for a five-hour truce that failed to halt one of the most devastating campaigns of the war.

Two residents in the region told Reuters that warplanes and helicopters were still launching strikes despite the Russian truce. Air strikes were also reported by a war monitoring group, although a Syrian military source denied them.

The United Nations said ongoing combat had made it impossible to bring in aid or rescue the wounded.

"We have reports this morning there is continuous fighting in eastern Ghouta," UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. "Clearly the situation on the ground is not such that convoys can go in or medical evacuations can go out."

Hundreds of people have died during 10 days of government bombardment of eastern Ghouta, an area of towns and farms on the outskirts of Damascus. The assault has been among the most devastating air campaigns of a war now entering its eighth year.

Russia declared yesterday's unilateral five-hour truce - which would continue on a daily basis - to open what it describes as a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the wounded and let civilians escape from the besieged rebel-held enclave.

But the pause ended hours later with no civilians leaving the area.

 

Residents in several towns in the district described a brief pause in fighting, but said bombardment swiftly resumed.

Syrian state media and Russian officials accused the rebels of shelling the evacuation corridor to stop civilians leaving eastern Ghouta, which rebel groups denied.

A UN Security Council resolution passed last Saturday called for a 30-day ceasefire across the entire country, but it did not specify when it should come into effect.

It also excludes some militant groups, which Syria's allies say are among the rebel fighters in eastern Ghouta.

That has meant the ceasefire has not been observed in practice.

Mr Laerke declined to comment on the Russian proposal for a five-hour truce, but called instead on all sides to obey the full 30-day ceasefire.

Eastern Ghouta, where the UN says around 400,000 people live, is a major target for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad , whose forces have clawed back numerous areas with military backing from Russia and Iran.

Health authorities in eastern Ghouta this week accused the Syrian army of using chemical weapons, claiming the victims smelt chlorine after "an enormous explosion".

The allegation drew British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to say yesterday that Britain would consider joining US military strikes against the Syrian government if there is evidence that chemical weapons are being used against civilians.

REUTERS, XINHUA

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'Syrian planes strike eastern Ghouta despite Russian truce'. Print Edition | Subscribe