Tuesday 24 April 2018

Syria: Assault on Ghouta continues despite UN demand for 30-day truce

Warplanes and artillery hit some towns in the eastern Ghouta enclave on Sunday

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group help residents during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group help residents during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Ellen Francis

Iran said attacks would continue on rebel-held areas near Damascus, where clashes were reported on Sunday between insurgents and government forces despite a UN resolution demanding a 30-day truce across Syria.

Warplanes and artillery hit some towns in the eastern Ghouta enclave, said residents, rescuers, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory, a UK-based war monitoring group, said Sunday's bombing was less intense than the attacks over the past week.

Rebels said they clashed with government forces on several frontlines in the early hours of Sunday. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Tehran and Damascus would respect the U.N. resolution.

But the Iranian military chief of staff also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs "held by the terrorists", the Tasnim news agency said.

Several previous ceasefires have unraveled quickly in the seven-year war in Syria, where Assad's military has gained the upper hand with the help of Iran and Russia, its key allies.

The UN Security Council resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on the besieged eastern suburbs, in one of the deadliest offensives of the war.

The Council voted unanimously to demand the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations. Yet while Moscow supported adopting the resolution, Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia cast doubt on its feasibility.

INNOCENT VICTIM: A wounded child receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Ghouta last week
INNOCENT VICTIM: A wounded child receives treatment at a makeshift hospital in Ghouta last week
A young Syrian girl wounded during airstrikes Photo: AP
A wounded girl is seen in a hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Member of Syrian Civil Defense group carrying a young man who was wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Wounded children are seen in a hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
An injured Syrian man who was wounded by the shelling of the Syrian government forces, waits to receive treatment at a makeshift hospital, in Ghouta, suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Ghouta Media Center via AP)
Syrian children cry at a make-shift hospital in Douma following air strikes on the Syrian village of Mesraba in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 19, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Hamza Al-AjwehHAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP/Getty Images
Member of the Syrian Civil Defense group carries a boy who was wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. . (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Wounded children and man are seen in a hospital in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Smoke from an air raid rises in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Two Syrian kids who were wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, sit at a makeshift hospital, in Ghouta, suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Ghouta Media Center via AP)
A Syrian man waits to receive treatment at a make-shift hospital in Kafr Batna following government air strikes on the town of Jisreen, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on February 19, 2018. AFP PHOTO / Ammar SULEIMANAMMAR SULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the Syrian Civil Defense group help residents during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
An injured man is trapped under the rubble of a damaged building in the besieged eastern Ghoua region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus (above).Photo: AP
(Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

The ceasefire resolution does not include militants from the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.

Baqeri said Iran and Syria would adhere to it. But "parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the ceasefire and clean-up (operations) will continue there," Tasnim quoted him as saying.

The latest escalation by Damascus and its allies has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory has said. The dead included more than 120 children.

Air strikes and shelling on Sunday killed four people in eastern Ghouta and injured 27 others, it said.

The Syrian government and Russia deny hitting civilians. Moscow and Damascus have said they seek to stop mortar attacks by militants injuring dozens in the capital.

The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege since 2013. It is the only remaining big rebel bastion near Syria's capital.

Jaish al-Islam, one of the two major Islamist factions in Ghouta, said fierce battles raged on along several frontlines of Sunday.

Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman, said the insurgents had thwarted attacks by pro-government forces trying to advance. Rebels and troops have clashed with each others around the enclave in recent weeks.

Russia said it was counting on foreign supporters of anti-government forces in Syria to ensure that the ceasefire was observed, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Reuters

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