Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Syrian War: Syria, Russia strike rebel-held enclave

NO RELIEF:The head of a UN humanitarian task force said aid convoys might be able to enter Eastern Ghouta within days, but bemoaned a short timeframe to work in

AFP, WAFIDEEN CHECKPOINT, Syria

A demonstrator outside the Russian embassy in Nicosia on Thursday burns an image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a protest by Kurds living in Cyprus.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Syrian and Russian forces on Thursday kept up military pressure on Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta as their controversial unilateral truce failed to yield a humanitarian breakthrough.

More than 40 trucks loaded with aid were unable to reach the 400,000 people living in the battered enclave, prompting fresh calls for a UN ceasefire to be implemented.

A five-hour daily “pause” announced by Moscow on Monday has led to a reduction in the bombardment that killed hundreds in only a few days and sparked global outrage last month.

However, a corridor offered by Russia for civilians to flee remained ostensibly empty for a third day running, with distrust running high on both sides.

Jan Egeland, head of the UN’s humanitarian task force for Syria, said he hoped aid convoys might be able to enter Eastern Ghouta “in the next few days.”

“We may have the first facilitation letter, permit from the government, to go to [the main Eastern Ghouta town of] Douma in a very long time,” he said, but added that “five hours is not enough” of a window.

Syrian aircraft on Thursday carried out airstrikes before the 9am start of the daily “truce,” killing nine civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Ground battles were also taking place in al-Shaifuniyah, which lies in the enclave’s northeastern region and has been extensively destroyed in recent days.

A spokesman for the Syrian Civil Defence volunteer rescue group, known as the “White Helmets,” said access to the area had been very difficult.

“There is hardly any life there. It is completely destroyed and there are people under the rubble,” Siraj Mahmud told reporters.

The Russian daily “pause” falls far short of a 30-day ceasefire voted for by the UN Security Council on Saturday, which has yet to be implemented.

The US on Thursday called on Moscow to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to respect evacuation attempts.

“The failed ceasefire called into question Russia’s commitment to de-escalate violence and negotiate a political solution,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. “We do not seek a conflict with the Syrian regime, but we call on Russia to restrain the Assad regime, de-conflict counterterrorism operations with the coalition and de-escalate the remaining battlefields of the Syrian civil war.”

Washington is asking the Security Council to set up a new inquiry on chemical weapons attacks in Syria following reports of suspected chlorine gas use in Eastern Ghouta, a draft resolution obtained by reporters on Thursday showed.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and Russia has questioned UN findings that it carried out sarin and chlorine attacks.

It was unclear when the US proposal, or a separate Russian draft resolution, on the Syrian chemical inquiry would come to a vote.

The observatory said a child suffocated to death and 13 other people fell ill from a suspected chlorine attack on Sunday in the besieged enclave.

A joint Syrian and Russian air campaign, which was launch on Feb. 18, killed up to 100 civilians per day until the Russian “humanitarian pause” was announced this week.

However, the death toll has continued to mount.

In the town of Hazeh, rescuers working with rudimentary equipment were painstakingly hoisting buckets of gravel from a basement where they feared up to 21 were buried alive by an airstrike on Feb. 20.

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